Thursday, January 31, 2008

The revival of the local coffeehouse?!

She's the spokesperson for Dunkin' Donuts, yet even celebrity chef Rachael Ray couldn't resist the local flavor with a cup of cocoa at Lakeview's Uncommon Ground. (Photo: Uncommon Ground)

This story from the New York Times comes as Starbucks is now going in a new direction in an effort to remain "on top." From the recent new marketing campaign that includes advertising for the first time in the company's history to the new budget-conscious $1 coffee, it's evident that Starbucks is finally shaken down to the bottom of the cup.

So, let's celebrate with a cup of java with the resurgence of the local coffeehouse because, after all, they've been here all along:

Atomix (1957 W. Chicago Ave., 312-666-2649). It's got a lived-in feel, a ton of espresso drinks and an authentic coffeehouse atmosphere.

Bleeding Heart Bakery (1955 W. Belmont Ave., 773-327-6931). The new Roscoe Village location continues the charge with organic goodies to go along with their multiple coffee drinks.

Bronzeville Coffee House (528 E. 43rd St., 773-536-0494). Freshly brewed coffees, homemade pastries and a never-ending schedule of community-focused events draw crowds to this South Side spot.

Iguana Cafe (517 N. Halsted St., 312-432-0663). It's got a very Euro feel, with a cozy setting that makes you want to stay all day. Also, their coffee selections are particularly strong.

Cafe Jumping Bean (1439 W. 18th St., 312-455-0019). The bottomless cup of joe, plus specialties like the Screaming Bean and Mocha Almond Delight are bonuses at this artists retreat.

Caffe de Luca (1721 N. Damen Ave., 773-342-6000). The Italian-flavored fixture in Bucktown gets the nod for selections like Bam Bam (honey, espresso, coffee) and one of the best espressos in the area.

Intelligentsia Coffee (3123 N. Broadway, 773-348-8058). The menus at many local high-end establishments proclaim "We proudly serve Intelligentsia Coffee," so you're getting it straight from the source here!

Kopi: A Travelers Cafe (5317 N. Clark St., 773-989-5674). At this Andersonville stopover, you can get up to five shots in your espresso. Also, a number of teas, specialty coffees and hot chocolate are on tap.

Star Lounge Cafe (2521 W. Chicago Ave., 773-384-7827). This Ukrainian Village newcomer has finally found a customer base for its homestyle sandwiches and unique coffee drinks.

Uncommon Ground (3800 N. Clark St., 773-929-3680 or 1401 W. Devon Ave., 773-465-9801). What started off as a simple neighborhood coffeehouse is now a phenomenon in Lakeview and Edgewater with this venue that embraces local, sustainable and fair trade products as well as local talent.

Second ENO wine bar arrives in late spring


So the good folks over at the Fairmont Hotel (200 N. Columbus Dr., 312-565-8000) in the North Loop give up the goods on what's going on with that second ENO outpost. The boutique wine-chocolate-cheese lounge, which took off like crazy when it opened in the Inter-Continental Hotel (505 N. Michigan Ave., 312-944-4100) a little over a year ago, is set to open in late April or early May in the Fairmont's lobby.

Thank GOD they're not replacing Aria, that perfect date spot offering exotic cocktails and Japanese bites. But it'll be interesting to see how they carve out this space for ENO because in the Michigan Ave. digs they've got that cool leather floor and custom-designed wine cellar that also serves as a showpiece for the room. We'll see soon enough. Developing . . .

File this under: WTF?!?!?!??!?!


Would you eat a cheeseburger in a can?!

What not to do when you go out

Just dug up this really helpful thread from the Zagat boards on how to conduct yourselves at restaurants. It's a pretty lively discussion between industry types and customers. Good stuff!

Where to bag a millionaire

Digging for gold?! CitySearch tells you where to go around town if you want to flirt for a fortune, including Peninsula Chicago Hotel (108 E. Superior St., 312-337-2888) and Capital Grille (633 N. Saint Clair St., 312-337-9400). But how could they leave the Four Seasons Lounge (120 E. Delaware Pl., 312-280-8800), The Martini Bar (401 S. LaSalle St., 312-377-6111)—where all the traders hang—and the bar at one sixtyblue (1400 W. Randolph St., 312-850-0303) off this list?!

Party people out and about

(Photo: Darkroom Demons)

The Rehab Round 4 party at evilOlive (1551 W. Division St., 773-235-9100) brought out some seriously interesting characters—as always—when it happened the other day.

Be a weekend warrior . . .

There's just too much going on this weekend to worry about the weather, so suck it up and get into weekend warrior mode. You'll want to check into a host of Mardi Gras events, and even though the Bears aren't in the Super Bowl this year, you can still have fun at various celebratory parties around town. And, there's always the usual fun happenings:

Meet the Pastry Chef. This dessert and bubbly tasting happening tonight formally introduces Room 21's new pastry chef Kate Milashus (formerly of Avenue M, Dine, Karma, Birch River Grille, Pili Pili, Zealous, D. Kelly). She'll create an assortment of sweets, including mini Red Velvet cakes, rum balls, chocolate malted sandwich cookies and pink champagne truffles, to be devoured in the restaurant's private dining room. 5:30-7:30pm. $15 per person. 2110 S. Wabash Ave., 312-328-1198.

Sounds Good Thursdays. Versatile DJ Jesse De La Pena continues his Thursday night party with live art and experimental beats. 8pm-2am. No cover. JBar, 610 N. Rush St., 312-660-7200.

Bright Pink. One-hundred percent of ticket sales from this cocktail party helps efforts to provide education and support to young women who are at risk for breast and ovarian cancer. The event includes cocktails and appetizers. 9-11pm Friday. Tickets are $25-$50 (VIP with champagne reception from 8-9pm, gift bag and private entrance). Purchase tickets at Be Bright Pink. Le Passage, 1 W. Oak St., 312-255-0022.

Unibroue Beer Tasting. Come for the complimentary tasting on Friday 6-9pm of the beer that everyone's talking about. You'll get to sample: Ephmere Apple, a white ale brewed with fruits and spices; La Fin Du Monde, a strong triple style golden ale; and Chambly Noire, a deceptively dark black ale. Appetizer pairing also in the mix. Taste Food & Wine, 1506 W. Jarvis Ave., 773-761-3663.

Super Bowl Beer Tasting. Even more beer can be sampled at this pre-Super Bowl event. Just Grapes (560 W. Washington St., 312-627-9463) hosts this event on Saturday, 1-4pm in which guests will learn about artisanal beers. Experts will be available to discuss brewing styles, types of beers, and flavor profiles as you sample some of the world’s finest beers.

Sunday Brunch Carnival Bash. If you're not feeling football, get the fever for this traditional Rio de Janeiro carnival-style brunch. Costumes are optional, plenty of dancing and it's BYOB. Sunday, 2-6pm. $30. Sinha's, 2018 W. Adams St., 312-491-8200. Reservations required.

Super Bowl Parties:

The Third Annual Widows of the Super Bowl allows both men and women to enjoy the game. Held at Motel Bar (600 W. Chicago Ave., 312-822-2900), the event includes all the usual festivities for the guys and the opportunity for ladies to enjoy manicures and martinis in the back.

10pin Bowling Lounge. They've got extra-large high-definition screens to watch the big game, plus eight theater-sized screens stretching across the 24 bowling lanes. Guests can purchase premium tickets for reserved laneside tables with front-row viewing. The $75 (per guest) premium package includes an all-you-can-eat tailgater buffet, four-hour open bar, unlimited bowling and shoe rental. For non-bowlers, $50 per guest includes the all-you-can-eat tailgater buffet and four-hour open bar. 330 N. State St., 312-644-0300.

At Amphora (7547 N. Clark St., 773-262-5767), they're doing two events: the Mardi Gras party on Saturday, 11pm-4am with drink specials, shots and music spun by deejays Kruzito, Caprichoso and 2-Sucio. $5; ladies free. And on Super Bowl Sunday, come back for free munchies (BBQ rib tips, salsa and chips and more) and drink specials.

Celtic Crown (4301 N. Western Ave., 773-588-1110) will offer $3 Miller Lite mega mugs and $2.75 Bloody Marys.

Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap wants guests to settle into their Ultimate Living Room Floor for the game. A 35-seat private room will be crammed with big, comfy couches, an all-you-can-eat chef’s table and monster-size TVs. The chef’s table will include the restaurant’s signature 8-lb. "monster" burger, BBQ brisket, hot wings, nachos, salad station and brownies. $35, and also domestic draft beers for $2. 41 E. Superior St., 312-867-4908.

Only $10 at the door gets you a tailgate buffet at Junior’s Sports Lounge until halftime. 724 W. Maxwell St., 312-421-2277.

At Luxbar (18 E. Bellevue Ave., 312-642-3200), you can take advantage of the special buffet in the second floor dining area beginning at 4pm. Grub includes a chili station, sliders, salads, hummus, chicken tenders, quesadillas, roasted salmon, macaroni and cheese, and a variety of desserts. The game will be shown on multiple screens, of course. $25.

There's a great party package at MIX (2843 N. Halsted St., (773-528-7569) that includes all you can eat and drink for five hours. And they'll have projection screens and multiple TV screens so you don't miss any action. $30.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Wild Brunch

The decadent dessert cart at David Burke's Primehouse is part of their new American Dim Sum. (Photo: David Burke's Primehouse)

In the spirit of Mardi Gras season, The Wild Brunch takes a look at some very tempting treats you don’t want to miss. This Sunday, David Burke’s Primehouse debuts an American-style dim sum with contemporary twists; Hyde Park fave C’est Si Bon pays tribute to Louisiana cuisine with some hearty dishes; and Vee Vee’s in Rogers Park offers an authentic African feast. The one thing in common? All buffets! Get on it!

C'est Si Bon (5225 S. Harper Ave., 773-363-4123). For less than 20 bucks, you can load up on this homestyle breakfast buffet with items like the Cajun fried chicken with a hot Belgian waffle; smothered pork chops served with a choice of Cajun hash browns or rice; or the New Orleans-style French toast stuffed with spicy sausage. One Mimosa included; nonalcoholic beverages unlimited.

David Burke’s Primehouse (616 N. Rush St., 312-660-6000). Former Park Avenue Café chef David Burke passes the torch for contemporary American dim sum to his executive chef, Rick Gresh, at the sweet James Hotel eatery. Servers swing by the tables with custom-designed carts filled with a staggering amount of goodies. My faves?! The comfort food cart for the Kobe beef mini corn dogs, mac ‘n’ cheese with ham hocks and the Southern fried chicken drumstick with cole slaw. Oh, and the “Brunch & Crunch” cart for the chocolate and hazelnut stuffed French toast and the almond pancakes with passion fruit butter. And, mmmmm, how can I forget the “Asian Goodies” cart for the lobster, short rib and veggie dumplings and the “Sweet Treats” cart rolling through with the infamous cheesecake lollipops, dessert shooters and baby sundaes. And finally, for an extra $7 you must order the flight of classic brunch cocktails: Salty Dog (grapefruit juice and vodka), Mimosa and a bloody Mary. American dim sum is $35 per person.

Vee Vee’s (6232 N. Broadway, 773 465-2424). Specializing in West African and Jamaican cuisine, this no-frills North Side spot hosts an all-you-can-eat buffet every Sunday for $9.99. Just some of the hearty dishes on the menu include red beans and rice with jerk chicken; Jollof rice (steamed rice cooked in blended tomatoes, onions and red bell peppers with your choice of meat); and the Vee Vee's Special, which is a traditional soup infused with dried fish, ground shrimp, ugu, ukazi spices and stockfish. One of the most popular desserts is the Chin Chin, mini donut-like treats made with flour, sugar, butter, eggs, milk and nutmeg that’s rolled out, cut into cubes and fried to a golden brown.

New York blog takes on Chicago dining scene

So here is Gridskipper--owned by Gawker Media Group--giving us the lowdown on Chicago's dining scene right now.

Just a taste includes an "Overrated" tag for Moto (945 W. Fulton Market, 312-491-0058) because "the novelty of those paper-wrapped rolls is starting to wear off considering the range of better expensive meals you can get in Chicago." Wow.

And also: "Best Cheap Dinner" goes to Sol De Mexico (3018 N. Cicero Ave., 773-282-4119) because "it's four miles out of the Loop, but it's worth the trek if you can make it." Much better.

A slice of Chicago pie


Here in Chicago we're obsessed with pizza. But we're not the only ones. Serious Eats whips up a list of regional pizza styles and has this to say about our beloved pies:

Deep Dish

I don't know if I need to elaborate much on deep dish, since, like New York–style, you already know what it's about. And I'm not trying to knock it here, but it is more like a casserole than, say, focaccia. It's cooked in a deep pan, with a deep, thick, buttery crust, and a chunky tomato sauce. Lots of cheese, lots of (and/or copious amounts of) toppings.

The crust is parbaked in the pan before toppings are added, usually a layer of sliced mozzarella, followed by meats and veggies, then sauce, then grated cheese. Unlike New York–style, it's eaten with a knife and fork. How 'bout a neat little clip from a story in the July 20, 1997, edition of the Chicago Tribune:

Chicago-style pizza may owe its existence to a bad enchilada. When partners Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo planned to open a restaurant, Sewell, a native Texan, wanted to feature Mexican food. But one of the sample meals the partners tested made Riccardo so sick that he rejected Mexican food entirely. Riccardo suggested pizza, which he had encountered in Italy--as indeed many American servicemen were doing during World War II. Sewell's complaint with pizza was that it was insubstantial, little more than an appetizer--and readily available in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood besides. Sewell wanted a substantial, meal-size pizza. After some experimenting, the partners devised something with a thick crust and plenty of cheese. Pizzeria Uno opened on this date at the corner of Ohio Street and Wabash Avenue. Chicago has contributed many dishes to American cuisine, among them shrimp DeJonghe, chicken Vesuvio and the Italian beef sandwich. But none has been so widely imitated, nor so closely identified with the city, as Chicago-style pizza. Pizzeria Uno, however, was not an overnight success. In the early days, bartenders distributed free sample slices to introduce customers to the new pizza. "Fortunately," Sewell said, "we had a very good bar business."

Like Neapolitan–style and New York–style, deep dish has traveled far from its birthplace. Although, with a few notable exceptions, good deep dish is still hard to find outside Chicago.

Stuffed Pizza

Another Chicago specialty that is often confused with deep dish because of its similarity. It's assembled and cooked in a similar manner to deep dish, but it has a top layer of crust and is usually taller and more densely packed with toppings.

Chicago Thin Crust

Another form of pizza prevalent in Chicago, though it seems that folks outside the Windy City mostly overlook this style when talking about Chicago pizza. It's thinner than New York–style and crunchier, though it's also more tender and flaky. Almost pastry-like. I think this crust style of this pizza has much in common with the bar pizza or tavern pizza I've had in New York City and also with the independent pizzeria pizzas I've had in Milwaukee. The Chicago thin-crust has a smooth, highly seasoned sauce. Toppings are added under the cheese, which is typically mozzarella. Often cut into a grid of square pieces (instead of pie-shaped wedges) in what's known as the "party cut" or "tavern cut." (See also "Midwest-style," below.)


Variations, I believe, are found throughout the Midwest—from Ohio to Milwaukee to Chicago to wherever. I'd even go so far as to say that the "Chicago-style" pizza just above is really a variation of "Midwest-style." The Midwest style is round, thin, very crisp yet tender-flaky, and is party- or tavern-cut into the grid. Sauces and topping preference may differ from city to city and region to region, but this style seems to crop up often in the heartland.

Chick licks?!

Do women's taste buds differ from their male counterparts? Epicurious ponders the question and asks whether companies and restaurants are targeting women with certain foods, drinks, etc. French wine company WineSight has come up with a new vino specifically targeted to women, but it's not yet in Chicago's bars and restaurants.

Also, all those local spots selling Effen Black Cherry vodka to female patrons by the boatload figured out this trend a few years ago . . .

Deal of the day . . .

The hot chocolate at Atwood Cafe.
(Photo: Atwood Cafe)

To hell with this crazy weather. I'm going for haute chocolate today.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

King of New Orleans' cuisine on 'Today' for Fat Tuesday fun

Jimmy Bannos of Heaven on Seven
(Photo: Heaven on Seven)

Heaven on Seven's Jimmy Bannos is back on the "Today" show to kick off Fat Tuesday. Tune in on Monday, Feb. 4 to watch him whip up one of his signature dishes, BBQ shrimp on buttery cornbread squares from his latest book, Big Easy Cocktails, Jazzy Drinks and Savory Bites from New Orleans.

And on Fat Tuesday, all three of his locations will get in the holiday's spirit with an authentic Mardi Gras vibe, including decor, Zydeco bands, on-site face painting, and Lousiana-style dinner specials. Also, you cannot get out of Heaven on Seven without gulping down a few Hurricanes—a potent blend of several rums and juice.

And being down with all things Louisiana, Bannos is donating a percentage of his Mardi Gras proceeds to the continued efforts to revive the city of New Orleans. Locations: 111 N. Wabash Ave., 312-263-6443; 600 N. Michigan Ave., 312-280-7774; 224 S. Main Street, Naperville, 630-717-0777.

Three for tonight


Cellar Notes. The weekly NoMI event tonight features a whiskey tasting. Advanced sommelier Fernando Beteta will guide guests through a blind-tasting of some rare spirits. It's open-house style; 5:30-7:30pm. $30. Park Hyatt Chicago, 7th Floor, 800 N. Michigan Ave., 312-239-4030.

Industry Tuesdays. Lumen's popular industry-night party hosts a special event for fashion-industry types with this event hosted by the Mayor's Fashion Council. They're celebrating the launch of, which is "home for all things
fashion-related in the City of Chicago." Free; 6-8pm. 839 W. Fulton Market, 312-733-2222.

Lush Wine Tasting. The Roscoe Village outpost of Lush Wines & Spirits hosts Spanish winemaker Bon Vivant and ODYSSEUS this evening. Enjoy simple Spanish tapas as you sip and schmooze. 6-8pm; free. 2232 W. Roscoe Ave., 773-281-8888.

Big props for some worthy Chicago restaurants

Charlie Trotter's (shown above) and Alinea were the only Chicago restaurants to receive five stars from the 2008 Mobile Travel Guide.
(Photo: Charlie Trotter's)

The 2008 Mobil Travel Guide comes out today in stores, and several of Chicago's top restaurants received some pretty high honors. The following spots totally deserve the props, but the list is pretty predictable. [Hey, what about Moto (945 W. Fulton Market, 312-491-0058) NaHa (500 N. Clark St., 312-321-6242), NoMI (800 N. Michigan Ave., 312-239-4030), Sepia (123 Jefferson St., 312-441-1920) or Topolobampo (445 N. Clark St., 312-661-1434)?!]

Five Star honors:

Alinea (1723 N. Halsted St., 312-867-0110): "Steaming eucalyptus leaves, smoking cinnamon sticks or lavender air-filled pillows are just some of the unusual elements that may be incorporated in the presentation of some dishes."

Charlie Trotter's (816 W. Armitage Ave., 773-248-6228): "Charlie Trotter’s is a place for people who prefer food to be treated like a work of art. It’s also a restaurant for those who value a chef’s masterful ability to transform sustenance into culinary wonder."

Four Star honors:

Avenues (108 E. Superior St., 312-573-6754): "Cutting edge, contemporary cuisine awaits diners at Avenues, located within Chicago’s Peninsula Hotel."

Everest (440 S. LaSalle St., 312-663-8920): "Chef and owner Jean Joho blends European influences with local, seasonal American ingredients. He’s not afraid to pair noble ingredient like caviar with humbler fruits of American soil such as potatoes and turnips."

Les Nomades (222 E. Ontario St., 312-649-9010): "Chef Chris Nugent has crafted a traditional French menu that features dishes such as white asparagus soup with wild mushrooms and truffle froth."

Seasons (120 E. Delaware Pl., 312-280-8000): "Seasons restaurant has a diverse menu that changes depending upon the availability of fresh ingredients such as a surf and turf tartare, which features American Kobe beef with violet mustard, or ahi tuna with wasabi sorbet and tamarind-soy gelee."

Tru (676 N. St. Clair St., 312-202-0001): "Tru’s modern, airy dining room is a stunning stage for chef and co-owner Rick Tramonto’s progressive French creations and co-owner pastry chef Gale Gand’s incredible, one-of-a-kind sweet and savory endings."

Monday, January 28, 2008

It costs $10,000 for this memorable V-Day package


Got an extra $10,000?

If you do, then now is the time to burn it on something you'll never forget. One of my favorite romantic hideaways, Le Colonial (937 N. Rush St., 312-255-0088), is giving one—and only one—couple the chance to experience the Shoot for the Moon package.

What do you get for that hefty $10,000 price tag?! Well, let's see. Exclusive use of the restaurant's fabulous enclosed terrace (which feels like you're in another world when you're the only ones out there!). A customized menu designed by Executive Chef Chan Le. A personalized florist, harpist and limo that whisks you away to a luxurious hotel suite after dinner. Hey, if you've got it like that, then why not? And if you've got it like that, and you don't want to go, then can I borrow $10,000?!

Seriously, call 312-255-0088 for more info.

New industry night kicks off . . .get those forks ready!

Already infamous Lincoln Park night spot Filthy Libertine (1615 N. Clybourn Ave., 312-654-1782), which quietly opened earlier this month, hosts a new Monday night industry event aiming to beat all the rest, says Time Out Chicago. It kicks off on Feb. 4 with "Top Chef" runner-up Dale Levinski. In coming weeks, look for Carrie and Michael Nahabedian (Naha), pastry chef Mary McMahon as well as Timothy and Elizabeth Dahl (Blackbird, BOKA respectively) to take over the kitchen.

Best biz places to chow down

If you're home later tonight, try to check out my girl LeeAnn Trotter, the entertainment reporter for NBC-5. She's doing a roundup on the 10pm news of the best spots to dine for business dinners. I can tell you that I know at least one place on the list: one of my favorite spots with one of the best chefs in the city, David Burke's Primehouse (616 N Rush St., 312-660-6000), with executive chef Rick Gresh at the helm.

Deal of the day . . .

(Photo: Le Bouchon)

One of the best things about Le Bouchon (1958 N. Damen Ave., 773-862-6600) in Bucktown? The cult French fave offers a daily three-course special for only $22. Diners choose from a choice of French onion soup or salad Lyonnaise (greens with lardons, croûtons and poached egg); steak grille maitre d'hotel (grilled steak with house butter and housemade fries) or poulet aux grains avec sa gousse d'all (free-range chicken with garlic cloves, thyme and potato galette); and dessert. With prices that low, you can certainly get a nice bottle or two of vino.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Chicago's culinary couples in the spotlight

Linda and Tom Verhey, owners of Pops for Champagne
(Photo: Pops for Champagne)

There’s nothing sexier than seeing two people in love. And for once, we’re not talking about movie stars or other boldfaces in the tabloids.

It’s all about some of our top restaurateurs who get big props for successfully juggling their personal lives with their passion for entertaining.

And in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, which is coming up soon, 312 Dining Diva is highlighting some standout husband-and-wife teams (and a formerly married duo) who want to make you feel just as special as their bond:

Carl Anderson’s inspiration behind exotic Wicker Park bar Between Boutique Café and Lounge (1324 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-292-0585) was his wife Lu Lu. The couple met when Carl was a wedding planner and Lu Lu was hired to do makeup and hair. When smooth-talking Carl finally managed to get his hair cut for free, he also talked her into dating him. They married eight months later in Maui. Their V-Day special is a six-course, small plate tasting of signature dishes. Each candlelit table will be adorned with lush roses and for an extra $10, guests receive Teuscher Swiss Chocolates and a half bottle of Besserat de Bellefon Champagne. $85 per person.

Chaise Lounge (1840 W. North Ave., 773-342-1840) partner Jim Lasky randomly bumped into his future wife, Mary, when he was walking his yellow Labrador puppy Sydney along Lake Shore Drive in September 1996. They had met a year earlier at a mutual friend’s party. A week after that she showed up at one of his other restaurants; they were engaged by December and married the next August. They now have two children and still have Sydney, who is now 11 ½. They’re offering three different packages for the special occasion: a bottle of wine or Champagne, choice of a shared appetizer, soup or salad, choice of entrée and choice of dessert for two for $150 per couple; the package plus a dozen of red roses for $200 per couple; the package, dozen roses and a limo to escort you to and from the restaurant for $400 per couple ($600 from suburbs).

Linda Verhey was a bartender at Lincoln Park’s River Shannon (425 W. Armitage Ave., 312-944-5087) when she met her future husband, Tom, in 1981. A year later they opened the acclaimed Pops for Champagne in Lakeview, which just celebrated its first year in its new home at 601 N. State St. in November. For the most romantic holiday, they’re doing it in grand style with a four-day celebration. They’re kicking it off with “GALentine’s Day” on Feb. 13, a ladies-night event that includes a flight of rose champagnes paired with Vosges chocolates and live music by the Mikel Avery Quartet from 9pm-midnight. The $10 cover benefits Step Up Women’s Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening community resources for women. Pops will also feature various champagne and food specials through Feb. 16, including five rose champagnes by the glass for $12. Also, the Hinda Hoffman Quartet performs on Valentine’s Day and the Lisa Roti Quartet performs on Feb. 15-16. $15 cover.

The outstanding culinary team of Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand was forged when they were working at the Strathallan Hotel in Rochester, NY, about 30 years ago. Even though they’re no longer married, their continued teamwork on their award-winning restaurant TRU (676 N. Saint Clair St., 312-202-0001) has garnered numerous awards, including the James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Service” award in 2007. In addition to several luxury collection dinners on Valentine’s Day, TRU will offer a specialty dessert package in the lounge.

Mike and Helen Cameron worked together on and off in a Chicago deli, and then one day ran into each other at a Cubs’ Christmas party. Both of them had just ended relationships, so they dated for three weeks, moved into an apartment together and were engaged within two months. Once married, they worked together again at a hotel and began to conceptualize the eco-friendly Uncommon Ground (3800 N. Clark St., 773-929-3680) in Lakeview. For Valentine’s Day, Uncommon Ground is offering a three-course menu for $50. Their second outpost in Edgewater (1401 W. Devon Ave., 773-465-9801) is also offering the deal.

Friday, January 25, 2008

No end to burger trend, says Time


Even though there was no mention of any high-profile Chicago chefs or restaurants (sniff, sniff) in this Time magazine article on the continuing upscale burger trend, here's five top local picks from 312 Dining Diva:

(22 E. Hubbard St., 312-755-0007): This awesome Aussie version is the Bondi, with bacon, cheddar, beet root, pineapple, fried egg and proper chips.

Five Star Bar & Grill (1424 W. Chicago Ave., 312-850-2555): You get three perfectly cooked mini-burgers served with some of the best hand-cut fries in the city.

Fahrenheit & Celcius Lounge
(1890 West Main St., St. Charles, 630-444-1350): If you're lucky, your amuse might be the truffled beef tartar "burger." It's a tiny, flavor-packed delight that you pop in your mouth in a single bite.

The Gage (24 S. Michigan Ave., 312-372-2979): Their signature burger is a hefty one that comes with melted onion marmalade on a toasted malt roll.

Rockit Bar & Grill (22 W. Hubbard St., 312-645-6000): And the signature, award-winning Rockit Burger is made from Kobe beef, and comes with melted brie, fried shallots and served with yummy truffle fries.

And then there were 3? Edgewater Restaurant Week in the works

In an effort to gain visibility for all the unique dining options in the neighborhood, the Edgewater Chamber or Commerce is planning a meeting to get their own Restaurant Week going soon.

This just arrived in the inbox:

"Edgewater has a wide variety of restaurants and we intend to advertise
this and bring more customers to our community. We are hoping to get
some ideas and suggestions by holding a meeting at 10:00am on February
18th or 19th. This meeting will be open to people from all of the
restaurants in the Edgewater area and will be held at a location to be
determined. We hope to have as many people as possible to bring more
customers to Edgewater."

Sounds like a grand idea! For more info, call 773-561-6000.

And don't forget about the other two already in the works.

To the Boards

"BYOB Experiences in Chicago . . . " Chowhound

"Best tamale on the North Side?"

"Best Sushi Restaurant/Bar For Toro?" Chowhound

"Tell me why I should move to Rogers Park?"

How did we NOT make this list?!

Obviously the editors of Men's Health didn't hang out in Chicago on the weekend when they took this study of the Top 10 most dangerously drunk cities in America.

Rush Street, Division Street, Lincoln Avenue: Stand UP!

What the critics are saying . . .

. . . about:

Lockwood (17 E. Monroe St., 312-917-3404): ". . . . So is roasted Poulet Rouge Fermier ($28), that all-natural, heritage chicken. It is textbook crisp, browned and juicy, on an intense natural jus. On the side are decadent Lyonnaise potatoes topped by a poached egg that oozes rich yolk over all as you cut into it."—Laura Bianchi (Crain's Chicago Business) Read full review here.

Mythos (2032 W. Montrose Ave., 773-334-2000). "Garlicky, creamy skordalia gives punch when spread on cheesy fried zucchini patties, a.k.a. keftedes; grilled octopus proves tender at center and charred at the edges; spinach and feta–stuffed spanakopita is deliciously flaky and fresh; and loukaniko (sausage made off-site but to the sisters’ specifications) is the best I’ve had locally, char-grilled and juicy, with bright notes of orange zest."—Heather Shouse (Time Out Chicago) Read full review here.

Volo Restaurant Wine Bar (2008 W. Roscoe St., 773-348-4600). "The bubbly flight, which includes samples of Cava wine and champagne, and the food-loving flight, make perfect companions to the delicately seared halibut and rare sliced beef with fennel, shaved fennel and spicy greens. The true stars are the melts-in-your-mouth mussels floating in a garlic, butter and white wine sauce and the ahi tuna tataki served with marinated anchovies."—(Chicago CitySearch) Read full review here.

Vong's Thai Kitchen (6 W. Hubbard St., 312-644-8664). "The strength of the kitchen at VTK comes out in the curry dishes and pad thai. Panang chicken, for example, was great. If you like your curry to make your eyeballs sweat, then ask for it 'extra hot.' Slices of tender chicken ('pulled chicken,' the menu notes) were awash in a peanut curry that had been laced with kaffir lime for background flavor. Peas, snow peas and strips of red bell pepper added the perfect mix of texture and accent."—Pat Bruno (Chicago Sun-Times) Read full review here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz talks politics, love and nightlife

Pete Wentz
(Photo: PaigeSwisher)

Last Girl Standing Sarah Preston interviews Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz, who sounds off on his support for presidential candidate Barack Obama, his latest nightclub venture in the River North area, and oh that "not-so-famous" girlfriend of his.

Also, check out some cool photos from the event at Darkroom Demons.

Now open: Herban Gourmet Cafe and Smoothie Bar

Herban Gourmet Cafe and Smoothie Bar (900 N. Michigan Ave.)
opened on schedule in the 900 Shops earlier this month.

Padma Lakshmi, John Legend headline Common Threads' World Festival


Just days after the fourth season of cult fave "Top Chef" debuts on Bravo, its model-hostess Padma Lakshmi will serve as the mistress of ceremonies at the third-annual Common Threads' World Festival.

This event, which takes place on March 17, is big time, featuring some of the country's top culinary kings—and queens—including a mighty tight list of our very own stars.

The walkaround tasting includes appetizers prepared by Common Threads founder Art Smith, TABLE fifty-two; David Burke, David Burke’s Primehouse; Tom Colicchio, Craft; Gale Gand, Tru; Ken Oringer; Clio; Marcus Samuelsson, Aquavit and C-House; Jacques Torres, Jacques Torres Chocolates; and Ming Tsai, Blue Ginger.

Those who purchase VIP tix get to attend an exclusive Chef After Party, which will be hosted by Food Network’s Paula Deen, with a special performance by R&B megastar John Legend.

Tickets are $250 for general admission and $500 for VIP. The nonprofit Common Threads was founded in 2003 by Art Smith to teach children cultural diversity, nutrition and personal well-being. Call 312-752-2692 for more info.

A noteworthy update on Table 8 project

Will Table 8 be as opulent as NYC's Goldbar (shown above), another creation by designer Rob McKinley? We'll find out when it arrives in River North this fall. (Photo: Goldbar)

As reported here exclusively, the Chicago outpost of Table 8 is coming to River North in the fall, and we got the word directly from one of the partners, local entrepreneur John Oppenheimer, who is also behind Rednofive (440 N. Halsted St.) and Halsted's Bar & Grill (3441 N. Halsted St.).

He's not disclosing the location, but it will be somewhere in a prime location in River North. Also of important note is that it will be designed by Rob McKinley. McKinley's name may not be well known in these parts as well as he's known in New York. But if you travel to Manhattan and frequent sleek venues like Goldbar, Felice Wine Bar, PM or Cain, then you already know that we're in for a treat.

A view from the all-new CityScape

I'm not sure if I can see myself partying it up in a Holiday Inn (remember that line from Rapper's Delight: ". . . . hotel, motel, Holiday Inn . . ."), but didn't we say the same thing some time ago when the W Lakeshore (644 N. Lakeshore Dr.) reinvigorated the space formerly known as the Days Inn with Whiskey Sky?

Now comes CityScape (350 W. Mart Center Dr., 312-836-5000), the lounge on the 15th floor of the hotel that wants to take the town by storm. It's right off the Merchandise Mart, and guests can easily gain access through a passageway. But the coolest thing about CityScape is that like Trump's Rebar, it'll have the best views of the Chicago River with its floor-to-ceiling windows.

Light bites will include crab cakes, chicken "strings," mini-burgers, and a crab and shrimp cerviche—which we're told is simply phenomenal. And, in addition to classic cocktails and specialty beers, they're boasting local and organic beers as well as certified organic wines. Look for it to open in mid-February.

Vegetarian sandwich too good to be true

First Slice Cafe's Chicago-style vegetarian sandwich.
(Photo: Chicagoist)

I'm a huge carnivore, but this scrumptious-looking Chicago-style vegetarian sandwich at First Slice Cafe (4401 N. Ravenswood Ave., 773-506-7380) just might make me ditch the deli meat for a day.

A great time for a bottle of wine . . .and more


I know you’d rather be somewhere tropical this weekend, and if you do manage to get away, good for you.

If not, then you know the drill. Here’s the weekend update:

The House of Glunz (1206 N. Wells St., 312-642-3000). Perfect for an evening like tonight, this cabernet and merlot wine tasting event occurs at this old-school wine and spirits shop. Guests can walk around sampling vino from South Africa, Bordeaux, Napa, Sonoma, Washington State and other noteworthy regions. 7pm tonight. $25; reservations required.

Uncommon Ground (1401 W. Devon Ave., 773-465-9801) Also happening tonight is the new Edgewater location’s first Green Room Sessions. Local farmer Good Earth Farms and Green Acres will generously host the complimentary appetizer reception, while the Giving Tree Band performs. Party starts at 7pm. Free.

Wave (644 N. Lake Shore Dr., 312-255-4460). Get the girls together for an early dinner at the W Lakeshore restaurant and enjoy a Mediterranean-inspired, five-course small plates and mini desserts menu. Each guest (minimum of two) will also get a complimentary glass of sangria. 5-11pm Fridays. $25 (not including tax and tip).

Sonotheque (1444 W. Chicago Ave., 312-226-7600). Keepers of the underground house music culture 3 Degrees Global host their first event of the year with a upbeat party and music video shoot for “After the Rain.” Guests are encouraged to arrive in glammed-out attire for the event that includes a live set by Desla and Mr. David Broom, and deejay performances by FLX, Monna and Julius the Mad Thinker. If you love deep and sexy house music, then this is the place for you Friday 9pm-2am. $10.

Jokes and Notes (4641 S. King Dr., 773-373-3390). It’s the second-year anniversary for this comedy/live entertainment club located in the heart of Bronzeville. Get ready to laugh your ass off as the city’s top urban comedians—from popular shows like BET’s “Comic View” and “Def Comedy Jam"—offer hilarious perspectives on current events. Two shows on Jan. 26: 8:30 and 10:30pm. $20.

Republic (58 E. Ontario St., 312-440-1818). The monthly Chicago Fashion Exchange event happens with an urban fashion show and dance party on two levels. Guests may also order from Republic’s Pan-Asian menu. Jan. 26 9:30pm-3am. It’s free, so if it’s not hot, then head across the street to Jbar (610 N. Rush St., 312-660-7200) for a reliable stylish scene.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Chicago Originals vs. 'official' Chicago Restaurant Week

Since it was first announced a couple of weeks ago that Chicago was finally getting its first-ever restaurant week(s), there's been much heated discussion on who had the "best" one: the "official" Chicago Tourism Bureau's Eat It Up or the Chicago Originals offering.

For hardcore foodies, the Chicago Originals event (whose membership is composed of low-key, independent restaurants in neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, River North and West Town) seems to be more appealing mostly because they're not going after a trendy audience. Established, yet off-the-radar eateries like Cafe Bernard (2100 N. Halsted St., 773-871-2100) get the spotlight, while the more "touristy" favorite Bistro 110 (110 E. Pearson St., 312-266-3110) gets the nod in the Eat It Up lineup.

Whatever the case, we should just be glad because most cities only have one, and now we have two from which to choose!

Chicago Originals Restaurant Week: Jan. 27-Feb. 3

Chicago Restaurant Week . . . Eat It Up: Feb. 22-29

Schwa on its way back . . . finally!

312 Dining Diva had the news first that Michael Carlson was coming back with his madly successful and offbeat Wicker Park BYOB Schwa (1466 N. Ashland Ave., 773-252-1466), and now Time Out Chicago has an opening date: in mid-February.

An Asian invasion

The fried chicken at new Korean spot Crisp.

Three new Asian-influenced restaurants to whet your appetite:

Crisp: Korean fried-chicken joint has opened in Lakeview at 2940 N. Broadway. Read's first-bite review here.

Miss Asia: Pan-Asian eatery replaces Tie Me Up at 434 W Diversey Pkwy.

Sushi X: The popular West Town spot tries to duplicate its success with a second larger, Lincoln Park location at 543 W. Diversey Pkwy.

The Wild Brunch

Sepia’s soufflé pancake with housemade jam is a must-do for brunch.
(Photo: Grapevine Media)

This week, The Wild Brunch is all over the city, from a sweet Scandinavian spot in Albany Park to the hottest restaurant to hit the West Loop in years. So get your forks ready and make your way to:

Bijan Bistro (663 N. State St., 312-202-1904) for the specialty BLTs.
The decadent shrimp BLT makes a statement with lobster mayo and fresh avocadoes, while the fried egg BLT includes a vine-ripened tomato and hickory-smoked bacon. Other delights on their brunch menu: a hearty grilled beef tenderloin sandwich, chicken Paillard with sautéed spinach, mashed potatoes and fresh basil, and for the sweet tooth, a “Bananas Foster” waffle. Brunch is served until 4pm.

Sepia (123 Jefferson St., 312-441-1920) for a number of eco-conscious edibles.
For those who find the prices at this West Loop hot spot out of range, there’s always brunchtime for offbeat selections like the soufflé pancake with housemade jam, veal breast hash with scrambled eggs or the gingerbread biscuits. And how could you possibly go wrong when they’ve got a Bacon Bloody Mary—a concoction created with bacon-infused vodka and a housemade bloody Mary mix. Or try the Festina Bellini, an outrageous blend of Dogfish Head peach beer, Cointreau and bitters.

Tre Kronor (3258 W. Foster Ave., 773-267-9888) for a traditional Swedish breakfast and other Scandinavian treats.
The ever-growing Albany Park/North Park neighborhood has a gem in its midst and the area folk know it. When you first walk in, you’ll be tempted to order the freshly baked Danish and cinnamon rolls. Or choose from three different styles of omelettes: Oslo (smoked Norwegian salmon, fresh dill and whipped cream cheese); Stockholm (Falukou sausage and caraway havarti cheese); or Kobenhaun (Danish blue cheese and sauteed fresh spinach). And finally, this place gets big points for the thick-sliced vanilla and orange French toast as well as the Belgian waffle with fresh fruit and whipped cream. You won’t find anything on the breakfast menu over $7.50.

Local chefs to appear on next 'Top Chef'

'Top Chef' season four contestant Stephanie Izard

The Stew is reporting that three chefs with local ties will be part of the lineup for Bravo's fourth season of "Top Chef," which was filmed in Chicago and premieres on March 13.

This is fabulous news because one of the contestants is Stephanie Izard, the former chef/owner of Scylla in Bucktown (which is now the very successful Takashi), who closed and sold her place to take a break. We wondered whatever became of her, and glad to see her making some hot moves in the biz.

Ravenswood restaurants, bars get flooded

Many of the restaurants near Montrose and Ravenswood, where a water main broke yesterday near the Montrose Brown Line stop, are closed, reports Time Out Chicago.

Deal of the day . . .

(Photo: Il Covo)

Since taking over Il Covo (2152 N. Damen Ave., 773-862-5555) last year, new managing partners Carol Johnson and Domenico Fronteddu have completely revamped the menu with new duo chefs Nino Coronas and Giovanni Carzedda.

And in addition to retooling the Italian menu with a fresh Sardinian flair, they've added a budget-conscious prix-fixe menu that starts today (and every Wednesday thereafter).

For $30, diners can enjoy the Prezzo Fisso, or three-course meal, where they can take advantage of any one appetizer, entreé and dessert on the menu. This is a fantastic deal as some of my favorite entreés range in price from $15-$25. Hey, I'll even make it easier for you to order. Best pasta entreés include the Bucatini alla Matriciana (Bucatini pasta sautéed with onions, smoked pancetta, crushed red pepper, white wine and tomato sauce topped with Parmigiano), which offers both a tangy and smoky flavor with the thick spaghetti pasta; and the Gnocchetti Sardi al Ragu D Agnello (housemade Sardinian gnocchetti sautéed with shallots, garlic, lamb tenderloin and white wine finished in a light tomato sauce), which you have to get there early to order as it's easily the most popular item on the menu. Plates tend to be on the larger side, so I highly recommend ordering one pasta dish and one meat dish (sauteed boneless chicken breast and skewers of grilled lamb loin marinated in fresh herbs come to mind, mmmmm).

Also, if you're seated by 6:45pm on Wedesdays, you get an extra $5 off if you order the prix-fixe menu. This deal is perfect for those heading to the United Center (1901 W. Madison St.) for a game or show or if you just want to get out for an early dinner.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fan Si Pan update

We told you yesterday exclusively that Fan Si Pan closed suddenly in West Town.

312 Dining Diva finally got in touch with one of the owners, who said that they're "looking to make the concept a little more clearer and move somewhere else." Oh, and they're not staying in the neighborhood either. Ouch. That hurts!

They're searching for a more centrally located venue to settle into sometime this year. As always, stay tuned.

SOHO House coming to Chicago?

The New York Post is reporting today that celebrity magnet and hot private London-NYC spot SOHO House is going global—and coming to Chicago soon:

"SOHO House, which started in London and then opened in the Meatpacking District, is going global. British garmento Richard Caring, 59, has bought out 28 minority investors for $204 million, leaving founder Nick Jones as chief executive with a 20 percent stake. After opening soon in LA at the old Mortons location, Soho House is expected to expand to Miami, Chicago, Berlin, Istanbul, Tokyo, Shanghai, Cairo and Sydney. Caring, the son of an Italian-American GI and a British nurse, has been nicknamed the 'Lex Luthor of Mayfair.' He bought legendary London club Anabel's last year for $175 million and he owns several top restaurants and a golf club."

And it looks like they're on their way, according to a Crain's Chicago Business article a year ago that reported that the London-based private company is looking to settle into the Three Arts Club building at 1300 N. Dearborn Parkway sometime in 2008. Developing . . .

Deal of the day . . .

Looking for something fun to do with friends tonight?

evilOlive (1551 W. Division St., 773-235-9100), a cool Wicker Park sports lounge, has free pizza and pool every Tuesday, so there is no reason to stay in.

Monday, January 21, 2008

'Desperate Housewife' spotted at new 900 Shops pizzeria


"Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria snuck into Chicago last week and made a pitstop at Frankie’s Fifth Floor Pizzeria (900 N. Michigan Ave., 312-266-2500) in the 900 Shops. I'm not quite sure what she was doing in town, but the petite star caused quite a stir, according to manager Matt Whittaker, in the new restaurant's patio area in the mall.

Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Vice President Christopher Favero, who is also behind the concept of the new Sardinia-style pizza joint, managed to get a photo with Longoria. I want to see proof of this, and when I get my hands on that photo, I will be sure to post it ASAP.

Update on Big Jones in Andersonville

We had the scoop on Big Jones (5347 N. Clark St.) in Andersonville at the beginning of the month, and now the details are really coming in.

Owned by chef Paul Fehribach (who was most recently the chef/GM at Schubas and Harmony Grill), the restaurant will be rooted in Southern coastal cuisine with Caribbean influences.

In step with the current trend, Fehribach plans to work with local farmers for regionally grown produce, pasture-raised meats and dairy for his seasonally inspired menu. Offerings like a blue crab and wild mushroom pie, fried green tomato BLT (tres interesting!), and Niman Ranch Baby Back Ribs basted with an in-house-brewed Worcestershire sauce sound good to me. Big Jones will also feature an extensive selection of classic cocktails and a daily afternoon tea service from 2-5pm. The tea service will offer three plates of finger foods—sweets, savories and relishes.

Some may remember the venue as the old German bar Augie's, but now the 2,650-square-foot space has been totally renovated to look more like a warm Southern setting you'd find in New Orleans or Charleston. Look for it to open in mid-March.

'Garbage bags over the windows' is not a good thing

One of my peeps just checked in with this email: "My friend and I were going to go to Fan Si Pan (1618 W. Chicago Ave.) for lunch and the damn place is totally closed, garbage bags over the windows, etc..any
idea of what happened there?"

I followed up and called the casual Vietnamese eatery specializing in flavorful oversized spring rolls and french-fried green beans. No answer, with phone ringing off the hook. I'm going to go ahead and guess that since I never saw anyone in the place it was time for them to go.

They beat us to it . . .

The Chicago Tribune's Phil Vettel is reporting that Avenues (108 E. Superior St., 312-573-6754) Executive Chef Graham Elliot Bowles is leaving to launch an eponymous "bistronomic" concept in River North.

Also, in a related story, ex-Alinea chef Curtis Duffy takes his helm over at Avenues.

2008 BlackBook Guide to Chicago arrives . . .

. . . in bookstores tomorrow.

The "insiders" guide to local nightlife and dining spots was written by yours truly as well as colleagues Sarah Preston (aka Last Girl Standing) and features writer/Plate magazine associate editor Liz Grossman.

Pick up a copy when you get a chance!

New wine lounge opening in Andersonville; Harry Caray's to hit home run in Wrigleyville


Looks like the very popular In Fine Spirits wine retail store (5418 N. Clark St., 773-506-9463) in Andersonville is adding another component in mid-March.

Next door at 5420 N. Clark St. they're opening In Fine Spirits Lounge, which aims to be a classic neighborhood bar featuring New World wine, classic cocktails and craft beers as well as small plates and cheese platters. The intimate space should be a comfortable meeting place for neighborhood folks looking to chill out for casual nights or wine education seminars. And come late spring (around Memorial Day), they're planning to have outdoor seating on the bustling Clark Street and around back on the patio.

Also opening this spring is Harry Caray's Tavern (3551 N. Sheffield Ave., 773-348-0009) in the old Hi-Tops space in Wrigleyville. It's debuting just in time for baseball season, and it's right across the street from Wrigley Field. Highlights of the menu include the Holy Cow! Burger Bar, the award-winning chicken Vesuvio and Dutchie’s salad. Late-night entertainment will include live bands, deejays and dancing.

Western suburb to get Soul

Look for buzz to happen in Clarendon Hills—like it did when Fahrenheit opened in St. Charles—when a high-profile duo brings Soul (1 Walker Ave.) to the western suburbs this winter.

Howard Davis—one of the principals behind Gioco, Red Light, Le Lan and Opera—teams up with Bill Kim (who is the executive chef at Le Lan) for this concept they're calling "refined American regional cuisine." Soul's executive chef will be Karen Nicolas (formerly of Gramercy Tavern in NYC and the Charlie Palmer Restaurant Group), who's also planning a budget-friendly bar menu with all items under $15. The restaurant will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner service.

Deal of the day . . .

(Photo: Taste Food and Wine)

If you had cabin fever over the weekend because of the unbearable chill in the air, now’s the time to get out to:

Boka (1729 N. Halsted St., 312-337-6070) for the Old World, New World and Your World, a wine-tasting event. They’re bringing in Cream Wine Company to compare and contrast different varieties, including pinot grigio, Rhone and pinot noir. Executive Chef Guiseppe Tentori will also serve specialty appetizers to complement. 6:30-8pm tonight. $30.

Sweets and Savories’ (1534 W. Fullerton Ave., 773-281-6778) Monday night tasting menu, which is $10 off every week. You’ll also get to save additional $$ because you can BYOB with no corkage fee.

Taste Food and Wine (1506 Jarvis Ave., 773-761-3663) in Rogers Park for the Monday night wine-tasting event. Each week, they spotlight a different vino, from bodacious reds to ports and sherries. 6:30-8pm. Free.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Smoking ban killing biz for Rogers Park taverns

The Rogers Park Bench sounds off on how the new Illinois smoking ban is affecting night spots in Rogers Park, including Morseland (1218 W. Morse Ave., 773-764-8900), Duke's Bar & Grill (6920 N. Glenwood Ave., 773-764-2836) and Oasis (6809 N. Sheridan Rd., 773-973-7788).

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Hip raw cafe to give Karyn's a run for its money

(Photo: RawChef)

Chad Sarno—better known as the "RawChef"—is bringing his concept to Chicago this spring, giving local legendary raw foodie Karyn Calabrese of Karyn's Fresh Corner (1901 N. Halsted St., 312-255-1590) a run for her money.

For almost 10 years, his company Vital Creations has embraced its mission of "celebrating life through clean, simple and cruelty-free cuisine," and now they're setting up shop in the downtown area with Raw Desire Café, a new vegan/raw and take-away concept. Developing . . .

Gibson's heads South for the winter

Gibson's is known for its hearty portions of steaks and chops.
(Photo: Grassy Knoll Institute)

While Charlie Trotter gets ready to open his stunning, seafood-focused Las Vegas restaurant in early February, yet another high-profile Chicago original has announced an outpost in another major resort town.

Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse (1028 N. Rush St., 312-266-8999) has plans to open in South Beach in fall 2008 or early 2009—just in time for the hot winter season. So, if you're one of those who travels to Florida when it gets chilly in the Windy City, you'll finally be able to get some real, stick-to-your-ribs grub down there.

Friday, January 18, 2008

What the critics are saying . . .

. . . about:

Fahrenheit (1890 W. Main St., St. Charles, 630-444-1350). "Culinary sleight-of-hand, deconstructed sauces and clouds of foam are commonplace at this Far West suburban restaurant, featuring chef Peter Balodimas in partnership with his father, Chris. Despite the dramatic flourishes, Balodimas' food succeeds primarily on its approachable nature; he generally applies his whimsy to such comfort-food staples as pork belly and veal chop. Do save room for dessert, when Balodimas is at his artistic best. Recommended: Buttermilk-fried quail, 'clam chowder,' venison chop, lamb shoulder, 'PB & J' dessert."—Phil Vettel (Chicago Tribune)

The Lobby at the Peninsula Hotel (108 E. Superior St., 312-573-6760). "Classic lunch fare includes two hamburgers—sirloin ($20) or Kobe beef ($29)—with superb fried potato spears (think french fries on steroids) served in a silver mint julep cup. Also on the sandwich front, shredded duck and aged white cheddar replace the usual ham and Swiss in a delectable play on a croque monsieur ($20), although it could have benefited from a little less hoisin sauce and more cheese."—Alison Neumer Lara (Crain’s Chicago Business)

Prosecco (710 N. Wells St., 312-951-9500). "Diver scallops stuffed with braised short rib suffered from a serious lack of punch, and while the stuffing in the Cornish game hen was delicious (porcini mushrooms and black truffles), the quail itself was a tough, bland disappointment. That left the rich, ricotta-enriched cavatelli to steal the show—which, paired as it was with toothsome shrimp, it absolutely would have; but a complimentary postdinner pour of sparkly, sweet Brachetto swept in and stole it instead."—David Tamarkin (Time Out Chicago)

Sabai-Dee (5359 N. Broadway, 773-506-0880). "Similar to northern Thai Issan cuisine, it’s supposed to be spicier than its neighbor’s, and though owner Kevin Wong tones down his red and green coconut milk curries, on request he’ll doctor orders to their appropriately nuclear levels. Floating with fall-off-the-bone chicken or pork and tender vegetables, these stews are meant to be eaten with sticky rice or rice vermicelli. There’s also a pa lo stew, boiled eggs and firm tofu in a thin soy-based broth, with or without fatty chunks of pork belly, and a deep, nourishing pho with beef and meatballs."—Mike Sula (Chicago Reader)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Microsoft's 'technology lounge' uploads into Hotel Sax

Microsoft's "technology lounge" is only for guests of Hotel Sax.
(Photo: Hotel Sax)

This is as sleek as it gets.

Hotel Sax's (333 N. Dearborn St., 312-245-0333) The Studio—Experience by Microsoft is a new entertainment lounge catering to guests who want to experience the newest technologies from Microsoft.

It's on the fourth floor of the hotel, so it's only accessible to the hotel's guests, who get hooked up with high-end laptop computers, Microsoft Zune MP3 players, Xbox gaming consoles, HD television screens, surround sound, movies and more. There's no extra charge, it's open 4pm-midnight, and a Hotel Sax "technology butler" is at your beck and call to troubleshoot or take orders for food and beverages from the hotel’s first-level Crimson Lounge.

Far from the usual gamers' atmosphere, in this lounge you'll find white cushions and dark wood paneled walls to create an intimate and modern space. Suede couches and leather chairs, along with plenty of pillows, offer a comfortable, classic lounge look.

Look for the hotel to host regular movie nights, as well as competitive Guitar Hero, Rock Band and Scene It events in the lounge. And since its opening, celebrities Kanye West, Samantha Ronson and Eddie Van Halen have already experienced the lounge during their stays at the hotel.

New bar is so scandalous that . . .

. . . I can't even post the photos.

It's called Filthy Libertine (1615 N. Clybourn Ave.), and if that address looks familiar to you, then you probably frequented it when it was called Glow.

Going back to its Glow roots, Filthy Libertine is owned by the guys who first launched the legendary Crobar (1543 N. Kingsbury, 312-266-1900) brand. They've teamed up with nightlife impresario Jerry Suqi, who is best known for igniting Chicago's upscale lounge craze with Narcisse, Sugar and most recently La Pomme Rouge (108 W. Kinzie St., 312-245-9555). They've also brought aboard nightlife vet and deejay Tommy Z to handle promotions and entertainment.

The bi-level lounge offers a speakeasy feel, featuring a VIP room that I'm sure will live up to its "Filthy Libertine" name in months to come. You'll get progressive and old-school dance music, plus an award-winning culinary arts specialist who has designed an appropriate late-night menu featuring items like the mini Crab Puppies. Now open.

Opened recently:

Bottle Bar (440 N Aberdeen St., 312-850-2266). There are actually 99 bottles of beer on the wall at this Lakeview joint.

Peek-a-Boo Lounge (440 N Aberdeen St., 312-850-2266). Hidden neighborhood chill-out spot in West Town.

And coming soon:

New Wave Coffee (2569 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-682-8688). Coffee shop and cafe set to open in Logan Square in the spring.

Cheers to these craft beers

Sam Adam's Utopias is the most expensive beer in the world.

After a year of waiting, I finally got my hands on Samuel Adams’ Utopias this week. Wrigleyville’s beer-focused spot Risqué Café (3419 N. Clark, 773-525-7711)—which appears to be the only bar in the city serving it (let me know if I’m wrong!)—sells the rich, port-like beer for $30 for two ounces.

This is truly the king of beers, with 25 percent alcohol content and every beer connoisseur’s dream. Sam Adams only makes 12,000 bottles a year of what’s considered the world’s most expensive beer (it starts at $125 a bottle). Curious?! Check it out for yourself.

Specialty beer is also the focus at Rockit Bar & Grill (22 W. Hubbard St., 312-645-6000), which recently changed its weekly TasteIt Mondays to focus on America’s finest craft beers. Through June, The Beer Dudes (read Chicago magazine columnist Sarah Preston’s interview with them here) and Rockit Sous Chef Amanda Downing pair suds and supper. In January, they’re featuring various beers from Colorado that complement a three-course dinner of a cheese-and-sausage plate, baby green salad with dried figs, and a surprisingly amazing buffalo meatloaf with white cheddar mashed potatoes. Guests can order the featured beers only or the three-course dinner paired with beer for $40.

More beer-focused options:

Bluebird (1749 N. Damen Ave., 773-486-2473). The Bucktown newcomer (owned by the husband-wife team behind Webster’s Wine Bar) offers a lengthy list of beers from around the world to drink while you chow down on flatbread pizzas and charcuterie. Word to the wise: Plan to wait awhile on weekends for seating; weeknights are easier.

Custom House (500 S. Dearborn St., 312-523-0200). The bad news: The Unibroue all-inclusive, ale-pairing seminar and tasting menu happening Sunday, Jan. 20 is sold out. The good news: They’ve added another date, Monday, Jan. 21 at 6:30pm (yay!). So make those reservations today if you don’t want to miss out! Chef de Cuisine Richard Camarota prepares a special menu to complement that includes a rabbit stew, smoked pork loin and braised lamb shoulder. $35.

Paramount Room (415 N. Milwaukee Ave., 312-829-6300). Every day the new River West tavern offers a daily beer flight of three for $7, which is selected by the bartender. Try it with small plates like the Scotch Egg (hard-boiled egg rolled in Italian sausage) or delicious hand-cut fries, or do a main entrée like the hand-dipped fish and chips.

Offbeat chef to appear on 'Sound Opinions'


The Food Chain reports that wildly outspoken chef Anthony Bordain will appear on Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot's Sound Opinions show on WBEZ-FM next week.

Party like a king—or queen—this weekend

The legendary house music vocalist Barbara Tucker performs at Club 720 on Sunday. (Photo: Bacci Bros.)

Let’s take a moment and give props to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (who would’ve turned 79 on Jan. 15), who fought for equality and peace for us all.

And with Monday, Jan. 21 going down as the national celebration of Dr. King’s Day, most of you have a three-day weekend. And of course that means the weekend will be off the hook more than usual.

Don’t mind the cold; these events are certain to keep you warm:

Room21 (2110 S. Wabash Ave., 312-328-1198). And speaking of b-days, tonight would’ve been notorious gangster Al Capone’s 109th. This swingin’ South Loop eatery—which incidentally still has a secret room where he took shelter—fetes the occasion with complimentary cocktails and appetizers (5:30-7:30pm), and local author and Chicago historian Richard Lindburg will discuss the history of the building. Room21’s staff will be dressed in period attire and antique cars will be displayed in front of the building. All evening, guests will be able to toast to the legend with Capone specialty cocktails, including the Sidecar, Scarface Barcardi cocktail, Old Fashioned and Capone’s Champagne cocktail.

Landmark Grill+Lounge (1633 N. Halsted St., 312-587-1600). Also happening tonight is the Art in Action: A Revolutionary Painting Party. The event includes “live” art by Chadwick, bodypainted models and an opportunity for guests to also get in on the action and do some painting themselves. Drink specials by Belvedere. 9pm-2am. No cover.

Lumen (839 W. Fulton Market, 312-733-2222). More unique style can be found at this sleek Warehouse District lounge as Scoop NYC hosts Twenty Looks, featuring 20 chic runway looks with hair by Marianne Strokirk Salons. One lucky guest will win "the ultimate spring wardrobe" from Scoop NYC. Complimentary Veuve Clicquot will be served from 8-10pm; party happens tonight 8pm-2am. $10.

Bella Lounge (1212 N. State Pkwy., 312-787-9405). Another installation of Music & Martinis happens tonight in the Gold Coast bar. Miracle Entertainment’s popular party for urban professionals will include drink specials and music by deejay Malik Shabazz. 5pm-2am. for complimentary admission.

Luxbar (18 E. Bellevue Pl., 312-642-3400). Winter Classic Cocktails, hosted by Lincoln Park Young Professionals, takes place tomorrow in the Gold Coast. For $25 ($30 at door), guests get a buffet of booze, including cocktails, whiskey, wine and more. Appetizers and mini-cheeseburgers will be passed around. Call 312-642-5097 for more info. 6-8pm Friday.

Plan B (1635 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-252-2680). Movie lovers may want to check out this hip Wicker Park tavern for Keep It Reel: Untraceable. Guests will be able to pick up advance screening tickets to the new Sony Pictures film, "Untraceable," featuring Oscar nominee Diane Lane. (The special advance screening is by invitation ONLY on Tuesday, Jan. 22 at the AMC 600 N. Michigan Ave at 7pm.) During the event guests can enjoy a complimentary cocktail and rock out to a sexy blend of vintage hip-hop, rock and classic 1980s hits. 8pm-2am Friday. No cover.

La Pomme Rouge (108 W. Kinzie St., 312-245-9555). Internationally known house music deejay Bear Who? celebrates his birthday, and it’s hosted by Music 101 and Effen vodka during the weekly Radio Paradiso. Get your $5 Effen drinks and $175 Effen bottles all night. Expect tons of local nightlife royalty to come through. 10:30pm-3am Saturday. No cover.

DeLaCosta (465 E. Illinois St., 312-321-8930). Get ready for Great Grape Night every Sunday, with all bottles of wine—including bubbly and sparkling wine—half off. They’re also featuring a mojito for $8. Deejays spin Latin-influenced lounge music. 7pm-2am Sundays. No cover.

Hotel Sax (333 N Dearborn, 4th Floor, 312-431-8801). Sippin on Sunday returns with its MLK Edition—one of its most popular parties of the year. Get ready to dance and mingle to the sounds of hip-hop, house and R&B with this mostly urban professional crowd. 9pm-3am. Free 9-10pm; $20 after.

Club 720 (720 N. Wells St., 312-787-8720). One of the best-kept secrets in town, this all-out dance party features the amazing vocals of legendary house music diva Barbara Tucker ("Beautiful People," "Stay Together," "I Get Lifted," “Love Vibrations”). Deejay Ron Carroll spins his infamous "live" deep house set. Hosted by BMC Entertainment Family. Sunday 10pm-4am. $20.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

An open letter to a few of my favorite restaurateurs

Rock star restaurateurs Paul Kahan (left) and Donnie Madia are two of the partners behind a new trendy beer-focused eatery opening in 2008.
(Photo: Blackbird)

Dear Donnie Madia, Paul Kahan, Jerry Kleiner and the boys from Rockit Ranch Productions:

The suspense is killing us.

You've all got projects opening sometime this year. Paul and Donnie are opening their beer-focused joint in the West Loop in the spring. Jerry has been planning his contemporary American eatery in Hyde Park since last summer. And Arturo, Billy and Brad (of Rockit Ranch) recently announced a 13,000-square-foot Asian concept going into River North this summer.

The one thing you guys have in common? No NAME!

Please? Pretty please can we have some names for these places soon? Everyone is waiting.

Thanks a bunch!

Absinthe is back?!

(Photo: Steven E. Gross/Time Out Chicago)

Every absinthe needs a story, and Switzerland's Kübler has a good tale behind it, reports Time Out Chicago in this article about the once-banned spirit that was celebrated with an invite-only party at hot spot Crimson (329 N. Dearborn St., 312-923-2473) on Monday.

The Wild Brunch . . .

This is what you'll get if you check out Sinhá’s Sunday Brunch on the near West Side. (Photo: Sinhá Brazilian Catering)

So here comes a new weekly feature, The Wild Brunch.

Every Wednesday, 312 Dining Diva aims to highlight some of the best brunch spots in the city, from old-time faves to some offbeat stuff. Got any suggestions or favorites of your own? Please send them in!

The Wild Brunch for this week:

Green Zebra (1460 W. Chicago Ave., 312-243-7100). The sexy little vegetarian-focused spot in West Town quietly started brunch service in 2007, and the neighborhood fans are delighted. They're coming for Challah French toast (with black pepper and strawberries), caramelized vegetable hash (with roasted tomato vinaigrette and baked eggs) and Anson Mills grits (with Southern greens, smoked mushrooms and poached eggs). You won't get out of the door without ordering the homemade sticky buns. And if you're hungover, get it together with the GZ Bloody Mary that comes with NorthShore vodka, tomatoes and spices.

Sinhá’s Sunday Brunch/Early Supper. Ever wonder what it would be like to get a real taste of Brazil? Jorgina Pereira invites the public into her near West Side home for this over-the-top event that will put you in great spirits for the rest of the week. She whips up a different buffet every week featuring delicious items from her native country. The other best thing about her brunch par-tay?! It's BYOB, so you can bring bubbly for your Mimosas, Cachaça to make fresh Caipirinhas or vodka for Caipiroscas. There is also dancing, mingling and traditional samba dancers. They have two seatings every Sunday, and reservations are mandatory. $25 (unless there's a special event, then it's $35). 2-6pm Sundays. 2018 W. Adams St., 312-491-8200.

Tweet (5020 N. Sheridan Rd., 773-728-5576). Michelle Fire's Uptown brunch, breakfast and lunch spot is so cool. And since they first opened a few years ago, they've always been eco-conscious, offering organic, anti-biotic free and hormone-free products as much as possible. My favorite here is the hearty bowl of organic oatmeal with dried fruit and ham carved off the bone. Or do the buttermilk biscuits and gravy with Hebron Farm Amish country sausage on the side. Got kids? Ask for the activity basket to keep them busy!

Chef Julius serves up some Super Bowl treats

(Photo: A Tale of Two Chefs)

If you're ambitious enough to plan your own Super Bowl celebration (when it occurs on Feb. 3, kickoff 5:18pm), you don't want to miss hot tips from personal chef Julius Russell, whose A Tale of Two Chefs (47 W. Polk St., 312-326-1948) catering biz is taking the city by storm.

He'll appear on WGN Morning News tomorrow (Jan. 17) during the 8am hour and prepare dishes that are guaranteed to warm up your winter day. He'll also give some sweet Valentine's Day recommendations, just in case you decide to surprise your lover with a home-cooked meal.

Off-the-wall dates

Tired of going to the same old places with your sig other or someone you'd like to see as your sig other? offers these recommendations.

How sweet it tis . . .

Daily Candy introduces us to Candyality (3425 N. Southport Ave., 773-472-7800), Lakeview’s latest candy haven.

Be a wino for a day . . .


Oh, go ahead and take a midweek break with one of these wine-focused events:

Half Price Wine Wednesday Nights. An ideal date place, Café Selmarie (4729 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-989-5595) in North Center offers a large selection of eclectic wines by the bottle at half price with the purchase of any dinner entree every Wednesday.

Take a Cab. The new Sam's Wine and Spirits (50 E. Roosevelt Rd., 312-663-9463) in the South Loop spotlights Cabernet Sauvignon, the globe’s most widely planted fine wine grape. They'll have a go at a dozen Cabs from several countries, and guests will learn why this grape enjoys such demand, about its character from land to land, and which foods it best accompanies. 7-8:30pm. $45.

Taste of Spain. Guests will get a nice cross section of regional Spanish wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero as well as tastes from lesser known areas like Jumilla, Yecla, Montsant and Bierzo. Wines such as Muga (Rioja), Felix Callejo (Ribera del Duero), Acustic (Montsant), Hacienda Monasterio (Ribera del Duero), Artadi (Rioja) and El Nido (Jumilla) will be among many others that will be poured. The wines will be accompanied by various Iberian cheeses and some delectable Spanish jamons. A portion of the $35 fee will go to the Respiratory Health Association of Chicago. 7-9pm at the Wine Discount Center (1826 N. Elston Ave., 773-489-3454).

Wino Wednesdays. The popular event at this trendy Lincoln Park lounge offers half off on bottles of wine from the “50 under $50” list, $5 Skyy vodka martinis and free pizzas from their wood-burning oven. Landmark (1633 N Halsted St., 312-587-1600).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Change is good . . .

Just got off the phone with a manager from Erba (4520 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-989-4200) in Lincoln Square to find out that they're changing the concept down the street at their other restaurant Brioso.

By the end of the month, say hello to Jack Rabbit's, a new Southwestern concept that replaces the contemporary Mexican fare they were serving over there. The address is 4603 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-989-9000.

And speaking of openings, Con Sabor Cubano (2739 W. Lawrence Ave., 773-728-2226) opened today and aims to feature authentic Cuban steak sandwiches; Purgatory Pizza (3415 N. Clark St., 773-975-6677) hits Wrigleyville in late February; look for the national favorite Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar to open a River North location soon; also, Natalino’s (1523 W. Chicago Ave.), a pretty Italian storefront in West Town, opens in mid-February; and America's Dog (home of the world's largest hot dog) gets a second Loop location on Adams Street in April.

A sneak preview of La Cocina de Frida in Andersonville

A lucky diner who frequents had the opportunity to sample dishes from highly anticipated La Cocina de Frida (5025 W. Belmont Ave., 773-202-1250) in Andersonville and reported back:

"The crowd seemed like lots of friends/family, spanish speakers, kids, etc. We were served small dishes that pretty much equaled a dinner, it was nice and filling. We had tortilla soup, flavorful and nice, but more salsa-y and thicker than I have had at other places. The next plate was chicken tinga on a tostada -(w beans, creama and lettuce) smoky, spicy hot and very nice. I appreciated the heat level. The next item were two small tamales, pork and 'veggie' (cheese and maybe jalapeno). Nice, not bland, needed no salsa. (The owner) gets the masa from Pilsen and uses no lard.

She will be featuring a different tamale daily, and maybe two other types consistantly. She said she will be doing catering, and will make bulk tamales for customers. She has 'over 100' tamale variations."

Wow! More than one hundred different tamales. I can't wait, and it opens tonight at 5pm.

Read it in its entirety here.

BOKA chef named partner

(Photo: BOKA)

Less than a year after signing on as executive chef at BOKA (1729 N. Halsted St., 312-337-6070), Giuseppe Tentori has been named a partner. Since he first came aboard in March 2007, the former chef de cuisine for Charlie Trotter's has tempted diners with American progressive, seasonal entrees like crispy Iowa pork belly with grilled bok choy, seared Muschovy duck breast served with leg confit and collard greens, and beef tenderloin with licorice braised short ribs.

And the busy Tentori is also getting yet another major project off the ground. He's also the executive chef at Perennial, a chef-driven American bistro, which Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz will open this March in Lincoln Park at 1800 N. Lincoln Ave.

More info on the first-ever Chicago Restaurant Week

We had the details here last week about Chicago's first-ever restaurant week, sponsored by the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau that's happening Feb. 22-29.

Now, they've put up an official website for Chicago Restaurant Week….eat it up!. Check it out.

Also, the Chicago Tribune's Phil Vettel blogs about the Chicago Originals Restaurant Week, which includes neighborhood faves like Café Matou, Cyrano’s Bistrot & Wine Bar, Oceanique (Evanston) and Sweets & Savories.

Is hot celeb chef Oprah's next favorite thing?!


Remember this name: Govind Armstrong.

You heard it here first.

Today (Tuesday, Jan. 15) this rising star West Coast chef gets his shot at the big time: The Big O. As in Oprah. The executive chef/partner for Table 8—which will open a fourth location in River North by fall 2008—will be making his signature grilled cheese (with pulled beef short ribs!) on the 9am show (or you can catch it again at 11:05pm tonight!).

Before anyone protests about Table 8 copying off Art Smith's Table 52 (52 W. Elm St., 312-573-4000), know that Table 8 has already been around with locations in South Beach and Los Angeles, with yet another one opening in New York soon. The LA location gets a big celeb fan base, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Janet Jackson and Sir Elton John.

Govind began his culinary training at age 13 working for Wolfgang Puck at the original Spago's. He also trained under Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton at Campanile, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger at City Restaurant, and Joachim Splichal at Patina and Pinot Hollywood.

Partners in Table 8's Chicago outpost are Josh Woodward and Govind as well as local entrepreneurs Johnny Oppenheimer and Duke Miglin (who also own Rednofive, 440 N. Halsted St., and Halsted's Bar & Grill, 3441 N. Halsted St.). We'll keep you posted on the location and opening date.

The busy Govind will be back in Chicago on March 17 for the third-annual World Festival, a chef-driven benefit for Common Threads, an organization helping children learn about other cultures through culinary exercises. In addition to Govind lending his star power to the event, other confirmed chefs include David Burke, Tom "Top Chef" Colicchio, Carrie Nahabedian, Jimmy Bannos, Gale Gand, Terry Crandall, Christophe David, Koren Grieveson, Kevin Hickey, Bill Kim, Sarah Levy, Steve McDonagh, Matthias Merges, Elisa Narrow and Chris Nugent. The event takes place at the Museum of Contemporary Art (220 E. Chicago Ave., 312-280-2660) right after work 6-9pm, and includes a walkaround tasting prepared by the chefs, live and silent auctions and live entertainment. Go to for ticket information.