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.