Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bartenders Who Rock!

Todd Appel of Crimson Lounge. (Photo: Clubline)

Season Two of On The Rocks—a mixologist competition in the spirit of Top Chef—debuts Nov. 7 on NBC right after Saturday Night Live.

I know none of you guys are home at that time, but this year try to DVR it because two of Chicago's very own will be shaking things up.

Jennifer Contraveos (Mercadito) and Todd Appel (Crimson Lounge) will be two of eight participants competing for the title of America's Top Bartender and a $100,000 prize.

Shot on location in Las Vegas, the contestants are judged through a series of challenges that test their skills, knowledge and talent behind the bar.

You can also check out videos of Jennifer and Todd.

Do you love it?!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Facial Hair Affair at Blue 13

Week one of Blue 13 chef Chris Curren's ever-growing beard (Photo: Chris Curren)

What started as a dare has transformed into a full-on hairy situation as Blue 13 executive chef/partner Chris Curren's letting his beard grow and grow and grow.

But the hard-rockin', tatted-up chef's doing it for a good cause, as a tribute to his late Uncle Rick, who lost his battle to pancreatic cancer earlier this year. The restaurant has partnered with the American Cancer Society to raise money for research during the next three months.

Curren is growing his beard as part of The Facial Hair Affair, and he'll post photos of his progress here.

You can also stop by the resto and check him out in person. Tuesday through Tuesday, they're giving away a Tweet Treat to followers (which could be a free cocktail or half-off on apps like the infamous mac n cheese); also half-priced bottles of wine on Tuesdays; and Sundays are reserved for the $20 family-style dinner.

Cannot wait to see what he looks like next week!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Who Gon Check Me, Boo?!


Whether you dress up as a Real Housewives of Atlanta character or one of the many recently deceased celebrities from the summer of '09 for Halloween, I'm sure you're going to look absolutely dreadful—which is a good thing.

If you get your costume together early enough on Saturday, join the festivities for the first-ever Wicker Park Halloween Prowl, beginning at noon.

The Collaboraction Theatre Co. kicks off the madness at the Polish Triangle (Ashland, Milwaukee and Division) with a theatrical procession of dancers, actors, musicians, vampires and mummies, who'll travel to businesses throughout the area.

Of course, it's free, and you can even bring the kids to this one!

Looking for the best nighttime fright fests?! You know I've got you covered:


If you're single and ready to mingle, grab your buddies and head over to Sheffield's for the annual pumpkin carving party. All you have to do is show up because they're supplying the pumpkins for free! Do your best work now because Sheffield's will be displaying them throughout the bar. Starts at 5pm tonight through Saturday. Free.


This is definitely a treat for the adults! The team from Twisted Oak Winery makes an appearance at the University Village LUSH for a special release party for River of Skulls, a limited-edition Syrah blend. In addition to the tasting, you'll get snacks, rubber chickens and staffers dressed up in pirate costumes. 6-9pm. $40, but RSVP recommended.

The Soooooooul Train Halloween costume party goes down at Shrine, and you don't want to miss out. NYC's Mick Boogie spins enough funky fare to keep you on the dance floor all night. 9pm-2am. Get $10 advance tickets here.


Division Ale House's going all out with a Halloween-themed brunch for Saturday only. You'll get to choose from pumpkin-and-pecan pancakes, Mummy Dogs with "vampire" dip, or spicy ketchup, plus a special Witches Brew cocktail made from Captain Morgan rum, Chambord and Midori. Also, $7 build-your-own Bloody Marys, breakfast risotto and Grand Marnier French toast. 11am-2:30pm.

If you think the North Halsted Street Halloween Parade is out of control, maybe you should check out the 29th annual Halloween Tavern Tour this year on the Gold Coast. The madness begins at noon at Streeters, then travels to a bunch of bars in the neighborhood, including Blue Agave. Free (drinks on you).

Experience Sunda's first-ever Dim Sum in the Dark, as guests will be treated to a selection of dim sum items in a sophisticated, darkened, candle-lit room. Share-able items (all for $8.88) include crab pot stickers, Har Gow (shrimp-filled dumplings), BBQ duck legs, steamed Chilean sea bass and five spice chicken wings. The regular menu will be offered as well.

Get ready for a 3-D Creature Feature-themed bash at Kit Kat Lounge & Supper Club as it's transformed into an eerie eatery. All guests will get comp 3-D glasses and popcorn (garlic, blood red caramel corn and spiced pumpkin) to watch a number of frightening films on five jumbo screens. Of course, they're also doing drink and dinner specials, plus a costume contest (312DD's a judge!) with a grand prize of $500 in cash. 5:30pm-3am. No cover.

Underground's theme this year is The Coven, with characters from classic and contemporary vampire tales. The setting will be transformed into a coven of blood-feeding faves. Deejays Jordan V’ampire and Jugular Rose spin. 9pm-5am. $20.

All those dead celebrities I was talking about earlier will show up at the Haunted Hollywood Halloween Party at Roof. Staffers will be dressed up as fallen stars, and they're encouraging you as well because there's a $1,000 prize for best costume. Matty Harris spins; Screen on the sixth floor will feature classic horror movies all night. 9pm-3am. No cover.


And if you're still up for more hangin', this week's Pops for Champagne Shift Drinks party is one not to be missed. Guest mixologists Steven Cole (Violet Hour) and Charles Joly (The Drawing Room) will sling the magic, plus Nacional 27's Adam Seger will also be in the house sampling his just-released Hum liqueur in a few signature cocktails. 8pm-2am. No cover.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

You Cannot Win Them All . . .


Piccolo owner Phil McFarland's not exactly mourning the sudden shuttering of his short-lived Italian gelato and deli digs in Ukrainian Village.

"That just wasn't our core business and it showed," he told 312DD. "We put a good foot forward, but ultimately are better off focusing on some of our other operations."

Believe us, he's not exaggerating. In addition to hosting a number of high-profile beer events this fall at his Wicker Park Small Bar location, he's opening a third in Lincoln Park by the end of November (the second busy one's in Logan Square), plus even "bigger and better things in the works."

So all is not lost. We love to hear some good coming out of an unfortunate situation.

Swine Flu-ids You Will Love

Chef Rick Gresh uses the melting wax from bacon fat-infused votives to drizzle over entrees.

Primehouse exec chef Rick Gresh is up in New York City this week showing media Chicago's no second-class city.

He's hosting a series of fab dinners at David Burke's scene-y Upper East Side Fishtail, and he's blowing them away with his latest creation: the bacon fat-infused votive.

The New York Times' Diner's Journal blog was there, and noted that Gresh uses some of the melting wax over steaks, seafood and other dishes for a touch of hickory-smoked finish.

The writer gushed that "a drizzle on some miso-glazed sea scallops ramped up the flavor" during dinner, and even the wick is coated with edible vegetable wax!

On Friday, the butcher shop at Primehouse will start selling the candles for $5, so you can do the drizzling yourself—at home.

Please, Rick, please make the next one chocolate flavored!

Get Ready for Gilt—Going into Former Aigre Doux Space

Look for this space, the former home to Aigre Doux, to dramatically change come January when it becomes Gilt.

Brendan Sodikoff's last Facebook status happened on Aug. 30 and simply read: "Just bought a restaurant in Chicago. Who wants to come aboard or get involved?"

Today we found out exactly what the LEYE exec chef/HUB 51 chef was talking about.

An Ultimate Insider told 312DD that Sodikoff's transforming the French-focused Aigre Doux space in River North into Gilt, which promises a former "L20 crowd (from front and back of house), low cost and people excited to cook freely." There's also "talk of hanging charcuterie," so we're expecting a downscaled, yet trendy design element here.

Brendan Sodikoff

This is going to be big. Sodikoff's already gotten the blessing from LEYE head honcho Rich Melman, plus his resume's quite impressive, with stints at the famed French Laundry, New York's Per Se, Ritz Paris, and alain ducasse (in NYC and Paris).

He's working on a January opening, according to our insider, and we cannot wait. Hopefully he can finally break that "curse" the venue's been plagued with for more than 10 years . . .

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Countdown to Big Star Opening . . .

(Photo: Ellen Malloy)

Looks like Big Star's on sked to open Nov. 9. Here's the first interior shot.

Lookin' good!

Best Italian Cuisine in the Country?!

Spiaggia is one of four Chicago-area restaurants on's annual "Top 50 Italian Restaurants of the Year" list. (Photo: Jeff Kauck)

OpenTable diners were asked to pick their favorite Italian restaurants for the annual Top 50 list, and four Chicago-area spots made the cut.

Fine-dining and celeb magnet Spiaggia, Little Italy institution RoSal’s and Lakeview gem Sapori Trattoria all made it from the city, while Glenview's Café Lucci represented the 'burbs.

The list is calculated directly by opentable's dining feedback forms and diner’s choice lists on a national level.

Kelly Clarkson! Kelly Clarkson! Kelly Clarkson!


The original American Idol Kelly Clarkson, who's in town for a performance tonight at Rosemont Theatre (get tickets here), performed during a private concert Monday at HUB 51.

Everyone pretty much kept their cool (you know how folks in River North are), but CelebTV reporter Kelli Zink was also in the house, and filed this interesting Tweet:

"(Bears quarterback) Jay Cutler is sitting next to me- who knew he was a fan!?"

You know, Michael Jordan loved to listen to R&B songstress Anita Baker before big games, so maybe Cutler's inspiration is Clarkson?!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Big Star Gets Opening Date

(Photo: Ellen Malloy)

So you've got less than two weeks to wait until Paul Kahan unleashes his soon-to-be infamous taqueria in Wicker Park.

You'll live.

Stage Bites: The Weekly Dining & Drinking Guide

Acclaimed spoken-word artist Saul Williams performs at Double Door Tuesday.

Every Monday look for the week's top performances paired with the best deals before and after the show:

Faust at Lyric Opera. The world's most famous opera can easily be applied to today's society: Selling out. Betrayal. Greed. Eternal Youth. Through Nov. 7 (starts at 7:30pm). Get tickets here.

Florian Opera Bistro: After this three-and-a-half-hour performance, you're going to need a stiff drink for sure. Thankfully, Florian's bar, on the third level of Lyric Opera's building, will be waiting for you right after the show with signature cocktails and lighter bites.

The Sarah and Peer Pedersen Room: The elegant dining room complements the upscale $28 three-course, prix-fixe menu served here. Expect seasonal entrees like hoisin-glazed salmon with Asian rice noodles and sliced bistro steak with chive mashed potatoes drizzled with Cabernet sauce. Located on the first floor of the Lyric Opera.

The Tasting Room: Oh, it's not that far from the opera house. TTR is only five minutes by cab, and even less by car, so head down to the end of Randolph Restaurant Row for a nightcap. And they've just released their new fall menu too: Sharable plates of spiced-rubbed pork belly, cedar-smoked garlic & spinach flatbreads, and seasonal wild game gnocchi sound really good about now, right?! Kitchen's open 'til midnight during the week, and 1am Saturday.

Jules Guerin's famed fire curtain makes a statement in The Sarah and Peer Pedersen Room. (Photo: Opera of Chicago)

Macabaret at Theatre Building Chicago. A collection of humorous new songs, which twist towards the morbid. Murderous spouses, horror films, evil cows and supermodels are just a few of the things parodied by a Corpse de Cabaret. Thursday-Nov. 1. Get tickets here.

Cooper's: Located directly across the street from the theater, plus Thursdays are half-price pizza night!

Matsu Yama: One of the area's best sushi spots still doesn't charge a corkage fee for BYOB, plus dinner for two is less than $35. Favorites: Godzilla and Jack Chen's White Dragon Roll.

Sapore di Napoli: It's not only BYOB (also no corkage fee!), but the authentic Neapolitan pizzas are definitely on point. Highly recommended are the traditional Margherita and Quattro Stagioni (tomato sauce, mozzarella, artichokes, Kalamata olives, mushrooms, prosciutto).

Saul Williams at Double Door. The acclaimed spoken-word artist—who memorably had every woman squirming in her seat with lust during a performance on Girlfriends—does a rare Chicago show. 8pm Oct. 27. Get tickets here.

Bin Wine Cafe: On Tuesdays, you can pair your expensive glass of merlot with one of their signature half-pound burgers. For one night only they're $5 and come with chips.

People Lounge: After the show, hit up the area's only tapas lounge for music by DJ Mixtape, who's spinning downtempo house and hip-hop, plus $5 Stoli cocktails, $2 PBR and $4 premium draft beer.

Tocco: If you can prove you work in the nightlife or dining industries, your food's 25 percent off on everything each Tuesday.

Young Chef on the Come Up with New Restaurant, TV Show

Jennifer Gavin of Catered Excellence. (Photo: Jennifer Gavin)

If you follow Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen as closely as I do, then you might recognize Jennifer Gavin as the young, spitfire chef from the fourth season of FOX-TV's hit reality chef competition.

She made such an impression on Ramsay in her determination to go up against more seasoned and skilled chefs that he told her he'd personally send her to culinary school the day she was eliminated.

One year later, Gavin's doing her own thing, including spearheading a new catering company (Catered Excellence), hosting a regular cooking series at the South Loop Whole Foods, opening a new restaurant in Hyde Park in 2010, plus hosting the first-ever cooking series on Black Entertainment Television that's scheduled to debut next June.

This week alone, she's in great demand with a couple of notable appearances.

Look for her at The Chopping Block Merchandise Mart when she goes up against two other female chefs—Iron Chef-style—during Today's Chicago Woman's annual Taste of TCW event.

She's taking on Top Chef sweetheart Radhika Desai and Elaina Vazquez, owner of Chicago’s gourmet catering company Boutique Bites and a former chef at Tru.

Going down 6-9pm Oct. 28, the event is $75 and includes cocktails, plus hors d’oeuvres created from the participating chefs' favorite recipes.

You can also catch Gavin at 6:30pm Oct. 29 at the South Loop Whole Foods (1101 S. Canal St., 312-435-4600) for a pre-Halloween party. If you're planning your own scary soiree Saturday, you'll want to attend to get tips on seasonal cocktails and appetizers. It's $40.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Berry Chill Goes to the Beans . . .


As if Berry Chill didn't have enough going on with a new kiosk at the United Center, multiple charitable involvements and three booming locations in the city, they've just taken on yet another amazing project.

They're partnering with local, nonprofit coffee company, Crop to Cup, to premiere their own signature java that's organic, roasted weekly and ground fresh in-store. The Original Berry Chill Blend—a.k.a. Yogi's Joe—debuts Monday, Oct. 26 at the Loop location only.

But you haven't heard the best part of it yet. Crop to Cup worked closely with Berry Chill to develop this coffee blend, which comes from small family-owned farms in Uganda. One-hundred percent of revenue goes back to planting new coffee plants and educating African farmers on how to maximize profitability in the coffee trade. Check out some of the farmers who'll benefit from the program here.

To celebrate the new coffee, Berry Chill's giving away free 16 oz. cups Monday and Tuesday. And on Wednesday, Oct. 28, customers will receive a free 16 oz. of the new blend with any yogurt purchase.

Now, that's hot!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Minority Chefs Overlooked in TOC Chef Issue

Mark Mendez is the executive chef at Carnivale. (Photo: Mark Mendez)

Just got the latest copy of Time Out Chicago, and this week they're focusing on chefs.

In it, the staff did a roundup of the 12 Most Important Chefs Right Now, and somehow forgot to include ANY people of color.

It wasn't a surprise to find Frontera Grill's Rick Bayless on the list, and I was happy to see folks like Michael McDonald (one sixty-blue) and Jared Van Camp (Old Town Social) get their shine on, but could not believe a number of amazing chefs of African-American, Asian and Latin descent were excluded.

Since TOC didn't give up the props, 312DD will to . . .

. . . Rodelio Aglibot (Sunda): The Filipino-born executive chef oversees the kitchen in the hottest Asian restaurant in the city, attracting A-List celebs and local diners alike.

. . . Sandeep Malhotra (Marigold): Almost every dish on Malhotra's menu is flavorful, memorable and can easily compete with any traditional Indian restaurant on the famed Devon Street strip.

. . . Mark Mendez (Carnivale): Mendez is a big supporter of locally sourced produce, his Latin-laced restaurant is jamming seven nights a week, and he's always looking to take his menus to the next level. Oh, yeah. We also love him for this.

. . . Erick Williams (MK): The iconic River North resto is 10 years old, and Williams has been there all along, rising in the ranks to become the most prominent African-American chef in the city. And he's not just relying on the Michael Kornick name to attract diners; the menu changes every week with fresh and innovative American contempo dishes.

And that's just a few of the names who should have been considered for that list.

Cat Fight Over Cupcakes?!


"It's really dumbed down stuff with low-quality ingredients, and then they use stuff like beautiful decor, excellent marketing, and nice packaging to create the illusion that you're getting something nice when you're actually getting cheap, trashy product," says Pasticceria Natalina owner Natalie Zarzour to GrubStreet about how she really feels about Sarah's Pastries and Candies.

Wow, now was that really necessary?!

Thankfully, owner Sarah Levy took the high road, responding with only: "I'm sorry to hear that she feels that way."

As I always say, never a dull moment!

A Freak-tastic FREEBIE FRIDAY!


OK, people get ready!

This week 312DD's giving away two amazing FREEBIE FRIDAY deals for Halloween, and you don't want to miss out:

One person will win two tickets to Nacional 27's annual Goth and Glam Gala, happening on Oct. 31. The costume party will include a premium open bar (8pm-midnight) featuring mixologist Adam Seger's award-winning signature libations such as a Dragon Blood Mojito, plus passed empanadas, pumpkin croquetas, shrimp adobado, guacamole, sloppy 27s and more. You'll also be entertained by La Tremenda Rumba and DJ George Perez, and make sure your costume is fierce so you can win one of the prizes (grand prize $1,000 cash; first prize N27 cocktail party for 27 people; second prize VIP club table and two bottles of Bacardi). Featured judges are the legendary Chili Pepper and 312DD.

Regular admission for the event is $75 in advance; $85 at door; $20 at midnight. 8pm-3am.

Another person will win Sunda's first-ever Dim Sum in the Dark, also going down on Halloween. You and a guest will be treated to a selection of dim sum items in a sophisticated, darkened, candle-lit room. Share-able items (which will be $8.88 for everyone else) include crab pot stickers, Har Gow (shrimp-filled dumplings), BBQ duck leg, steamed Chilean sea bass and five spice chicken wings. Your reservation will be at 7pm, and beverages, tax and gratuity are on you. The regular menu will be offered as well.

And immediately after Dim Sum in the Dark, a 9pm table will be waiting for you at Underground, with a complimentary St. Germain kit (tax and gratuity not included).

UG's theme this year is The Coven, with a creature feature cast of characters from classic and contemporary vampire tales. The setting will be transformed into a coven of blood-feeding faves. Deejays Jordan V’ampire and Jugular Rose spin. 9pm-5am. Free for you, and $20 for everyone else.

All you have to do to be eligible for one of these freak-tastic FREEBIE FRIDAY prizes is to be a Chicago-area resident and following 312DD on Twitter.

Good luck!

Bubbles, Bubbles Will Get You in Trouble!


It's about a month until we get into the heart of the holiday season, but when did we ever let that slow us down?!

On tap for Friday at The Drake is Tour de Champagne, a bubbly bash featuring a number of France's finest spirits complemented by bites from local hot spots, live music and a silent auction benefiting Healthy Schools Campaign. Chefs from Blackbird, Kiki's Bistro, Sunda, Wave and other restaurants will provide the eats.

The party's $115 for the regular event happening 7-10pm; $150 for the VIP experience, which includes the main event, plus a fin de soirée for dessert, more bubbly and an after-party at Pops for Champagne. Get tickets here.

Nine more reasons to celebrate this weekend . . .


Get your rowdiest pals together and hit Brew & View, in Lakeview, for back-to-back-to-back screenings of The Hangover, Anvil and This is Spinal Tap. More incentives are the $3 drafts of MGD, High Life and Miller Lite. The madness begins at 7pm. $5.

The James Hotel always manages to be in the mix when it comes to all things fab, so it's no surprise someone there stuck her stiletto way up in Fashion Focus Chicago. It's all going down in the lobby bar, and adjacent resto David Burke’s Primehouse will pass out comped apps. They're also doing a cool cocktail for the special occasion, The Couture, a refreshing twist of sparkling wine, red currant and white pepper compote for $7. 5:30-7:30pm. Free.

ajasteak's been re-concepted as aja, which debuts today. Instead of a formal steak and sushi menu, executive chef Josh Linton has transformed both levels into a more approachable offering. You'll find a sushi menu of sustainable-only fish, Asian-style tacos, and shareable plates of noodles and veggies. Oh, we cannot forget about the new beverage program, which includes eight by-the-glass sake selections—all presented tableside via a strolling cart—and 12 Asian craft beers.

Oh, boy. It's only a week before Halloween, and The Hideout Players have decided to put on their version of Little Shop of Horrors at The Hideout. There will be singing, maniacal plants and more. Get tix here. 8pm Thursday, Friday; 3pm and 8pm Saturday; 3pm and 7:30pm Sunday. $15.

"Royster with the Oyster" takes place under a tent across from Shaw's in River North. (Photo: Shaw’s Crab House)


If this is your weekend to get away for a short trip, you'll be in amazing company if you head up to the Abbey Resort & Spa in Fontana, Wis. The third-annual Great Chefs at the Lake weekend package ($219 a person) includes a two-night stay, starting with a Friday evening wine reception with the guest chef, cooking demo and signature four-course dinner prepared by the featured chef. The series kicks off tonight with Cibo Matto/Roof executive chef Todd Stein, who'll be whipping up modern Italian cuisine through Sunday. Upcoming events include Dudley Nieto of Eivissa (Nov. 6-8) and Jimmy "Tasty J" Madla, chef/co-owner of Coobah (Nov. 13-15). Get more info here.

What is it about oysters that drives people crazy? Oh yeah, never mind. If you’d like to see the effects at full force, head to the annual Royster with the Oyster Festival, taking place at Chicago seafood icon Shaw’s Crab House. Just think about what could possibly happen when more than 5,000 oyster lovers gather under a tent that’s bursting at the seams with live blues, gallons of Goose Island beer and a no-hands “slurp off” (an oyster slurping contest, of course). The party’s $10 to get in, with a portion going to the Shedd Aquarium and Alliance For The Great Lakes. 3-10pm.


If you frequent River North and River West, you're quite familiar with Blommer Chocolate's overwhelming aroma as it permeates the air in the area, but have you ever tasted their goodies?! Now's your chance as the Lockwood lobby bar hosts the Blommer Chocolate Lounge every Saturday through Dec. 26. Pastry chef Fabrice and students from the French Pastry School create signature desserts for your eating pleasure, so you can dig into unlimited sweets (plus coffee, tea, cappuccino, espresso, a glass of wine, champagne or a beer). 9-11pm. $35 for full chocolate experience or $5 for individual desserts.

You don't get many Saturday nights when you can dress up your dog in his/her finest and take him/her out on the town. So get it together for Wine, Wags & Dog Tags!, happening at Bice Grill. You'll meet celebrity dog coach Tamar Geller, whose clients include Oprah Winfrey, Larry King and Ellen DeGeneres, plus chow down on Italian bites as your pet indulges from the gourmet dog bar. Benefits Operation Heroes & Hounds. 6-8:30pm. $35 per adult (includes VIP Goodie Bag valued at $200); $5 per pet (limit one licensed dog per adult).


And the Bears Bloody Mary Special happens at Shaw’s Crab House every time the hometown team plays. Come in wearing Bears gear (excluding hats), order brunch, and you'll be treated to one comped signature Bloody Mary filled with house-made tomato juice, Absolut Peppar vodka, Worchester, Tabasco, and garnished with a plump shrimp, dill pickle spear, green olive and a lime. By the way, the Bears play the Cincinnati Bengals today.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

All Quacked Up for Fall

The luscious duck gyros from Taxim. (Photo: Taxim)

I've always been a big fan of the duck, but until lately you could only find it on most menus in traditional form (Peking, roasted, smoked), and paired with rice, veggies and thick, rich sauces.

But that's all changing as more restos are using duck in unconventional ways this fall, from a casual BBQ joint shredding it and pairing with a sweet and spicy Caribbean jerk sauce to a trendy new Greek eatery putting a new spin on the classic gyro:

The guys behind Logan Square newcomer Brand BBQ Market want to set their spot apart from the hundreds of barbecue joints around the city. They'll offer the typical slow-smoked pulled pork and baby back ribs, but they're also introducing smoked tofu and pulled duck. Just think of how good that'll taste when you pour their homemade Caribbean Jerk sauce offering the perfect tang. One thing to note: They're BYOB for now.

Chaise Lounge's executive chef Cary Taylor is constantly tinkering around in the kitchen, stamping his deep Southern roots all over classic dishes. Right now he's offering a duck cassoulet, and he amps it up nicely with black-eyed peas and collard greens.

Gemini Bistro's decadent duck nachos. (Photo: Barry Brecheisen)

What's certain to be a fall fave can be found on the menu at Lincoln Park's Gemini Bistro, which is quickly gaining a name for its contemporary American menu engineered by chef/owner Jason Paskewitz. If you don't start with the duck confit nachos (with shredded duck leg, manchego cheese and mango salsa), you are definitely missing out on something sensational.

What we're totally intrigued by this season is the brand-new duck confit Shepherd’s pie on the menu at Stanley’s. It should come as no surprise, as the down-home hangout for Lincoln Parkers is known for comfort fare. This one includes garlic whipped potatoes, sweet peas, roasted red peppers, corn and smoked Gouda.

And the runaway hit at Wicker Park's Taxim is no doubt the duck gyro entree. A warm Pontian pita is stuffed generously with spit-roasted marinated duck, pomegranate glaze, fresh mint and walnut yogurt mousse.

The (Lynn) House Advantage

Lynn House, award-winning mixologist of graham elliot (Photo: graham elliot)

Who says only boy bartenders have all the fun?!

Award-winning mixologist Lynn House—who's also in charge of graham elliot's cocktail program—seems to be having the time of her life in her second career.

The former full-time actress recently won a place in the finals for the Alchemists of Our Age competition sponsored by Benedictine and Esquire. It's to honor the 500th anniversary of the liqueur created to revive Benedictine monks in 1510.

Going down in New York at the end of the year, each finalist will create a signature Benedictine cocktail, with the winner rewarded with a full-page spread in Esquire's January issue. All finalists will also be featured in the magazine.

And finally, House's signature London Calling, which has been on GE's menu since the restaurant opened in 2008, gets a spot in Gaz Regan's new book, The Bartender's Gin Compendium.

House deconstructs the classic British-originated Pimm's Cup by blending Plymouth Gun with Pimm's #1, using fresh ginger water in place of ginger ale, and infusing homemade apple butter (with apples from her garden!) with a light homemade apple juice. It's topped off with fresh lemon for acidity.

We'll take one, or two, or three!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The first 'review' is in!

Asian "meatball" sandwich jammed with lemongrass, fish sauce and mint. (Photo: Steve Dolinsky)

Belly Shack's only been open since noon today (Tuesday), and ABC's Steve The Hungry Hound Dolinsky's already dropped by and hooked up a review on his Twitter page:

"Super-bold flavors at Belly Shack. Asian 'meatball' sandwich jammed w/lemongrass, fish sauce, mint."

Now that Dolinsky's already been through expect a little madness of likes of Rick Bayless's Xoco . . .

Wings . . . and Other Tasty Things . . .

Rockit's WingFest continues through Oct. 23 at both locations. (Photo: Rockit Bar & Grill)

Man, this week is busy!

Belly Shack, Bill Kim's sensational Asian-focused sequel to last year's Urban Belly, opens in Humboldt Park today.

Also, the annual WingFest, hosted by Rockit Bar & Grill, continues through Oct. 23 at the River North and Wrigleyville locations. For $10, you'll be treated to a dozen of executive chef James Gottwald's favorite taste profiles, including the decadent truffle butter tossed chicken wings paired with foie gras gravy; ultra-tangy wings drizzled in pomegranate and port wine reduction with mango dipping sauce; and the Asian-inspired wings with sweet chili lime and soy sauce.

Head over to STATE AND LAKE and check out the new fall lineup of beers, which includes 16 on tap, 20 by the bottle and three new $7 flights. For the flights, you'll get three five-ounce pours when you choose All Hopped Up (Avery Brewing Co., IPA; Surly, Furious Dry Hop Pale Ale; Founders, Red Rye Pale Ale), Autumn in the Loop (Great Lakes, “Nosferatu,” Red Ale; Two Brothers, Cane and Ebel, Red Rye; Founders, Porter) or For the Love of Beer (Two Brothers, French Country Ale; Goose Island, Matilda; Left Hand, Milk Stout).

Neo-Soul star N'Dambi performs songs from new album, "Pink Elephant," at Rumba Wednesday.

More beer's on tap at Socca with the All About Beer dinner taking place Wednesday. You'll get seven beers paired with seven courses for $50, beginning with sausage-stuffed clams paired with Dogfish Head IPA and culminating in a dessert of sauteed heirloom apples with oatmeal cookie crumble and caramel gelato complemented by a "surprise" beer that's light and crisp. Reception starts at 6:30pm. Reservations required.

It'll be a roomful of stylish folks at the 900 Shops (900 N. Michigan Ave.) for the official kickoff of Fashion Focus Chicago, the city's answer to New York Fashion Week. RSVP to for the glamorous gathering that includes cocktails, passed appetizers from the likes of Sunda, Bull & Bear and Old Town Social, plus sounds by the fabulously flamboyant DJ Rock City. 6-8pm Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, it's finally time for the Final Four of the Sweet 16 of Mixology contest that's been going on since the spring. Charles Joly (The Drawing Room) takes on Zach Friedlander (Relax Lounge) in a freestyle cocktail competition at Landmark. You get to be the judge! Complimentary appetizers. 6:30-7:30pm. Free.

And finally, we cannot begin to tell you how excited we are about N'Dambi coming to town. The sultry Neo-Soul star will perform songs from Pink Elephant—just released earlier in the month—at Rumba on Wednesday. Steve "Miggedy" Maestro spins soul, R&B and hip-hop. 8pm-2am. $12.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Stage Bites: The Weekly Dining & Drinking Guide

Usman Alley as Macedonio Guerra in "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity" at Victory Gardens. (Photo: Victory Gardens)

Every Monday look for the week's top performances paired with the best deals before and after the show:

Cotton Patch Gospel at Provision Theater. You've only got a few weeks to check out this award-winning musical set to bluegrass. Through Nov. 8. Get tickets here.

Kohan Japanese Restaurant. You'll find an extensive list of sushi specialties, so best bet is to order the Omakase Boat ($34) for two, which comes with the chef's choice of five pieces of premium nigiri, seven pieces sashimi and a signature Caterpillar roll. Also: $5 martinis and cocktails Friday and Saturday; $3 12 oz Japanese beer Sunday.

Tufano's Vernon Park Tap: Got a big group? Tell 'em you're dining "family style" at this classic mom-and-pop Italian eatery and your bill will likely be less than $25 per person. Cash only.

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater. Hip-hop, racial identity and pro wrestling clash in this dazzling performance closing on Nov. 1. Also, winner of the 2009 Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award. Get tickets here.

Gemini Bistro: In an area full of super casual options, Jason Paskewitz's semi-upscale newcomer comes as a nice surprise. Neighborhood favorites in this months-old spot include the duck confit nachos ($11), a creamy risotto (get generous half order for $10) and organic chicken with crispy skin for $17. It's four blocks away, so luckily they offer valet service.

Smoke Shack: Located only a block from the theater, this BYO BBQ joint is definitely worth the walk (especially if you're driving and don't want to move your car). It's open until 5am on weekends, so you don't have to rush right over immediately after the show. Your best bet is to order Taste of Smoke Shack ($15.75), which comes with two St. Louis ribs, two baby back ribs, 1/2 pulled pork, 1/2 brisket and Argentine chorizo with chimichurri.

Soiree: Get half off on appetizers (including grilled calamari, sauteed shrimp, eggrolls, sausage and peppers), as well as $3 beer and $5 cocktail specials every Friday and Saturday. Deejays spin on weekends.

Salem! The Musical at Annoyance Theatre. The bewitching musical set in the Puritan town of Salem in 1692 is ideal for your pre-Halloween celebration. Oct. 23 and 30. Get tickets here.

Demera: Dine messob, the traditional Ethiopian communal dining experience, in order to sample several items from the menu, including lamb, beef, chicken and salmon. Choose from vegetarian messob ($25.95 for six portions for two); meat massob ($28.95 for six portions for two); or family style so four to five people can chow down for only $14.50 per person.

Fat Cat: Fridays wouldn't be the same without at least one fish fry, right?! They're doing an all-you-can-eat deal that comes with Icelandic cod dipped in Rogue Dead Guy Ale beer batter and served with a baked potato or hand-cut fries and slaw. $11.95.

Fiesta Mexicana: Most items are under $10 at this Uptown fave, but we especially love the idea of Super Tacos in a double tortilla. Choose from chunks of pan-fried pork, grilled skirt steak, or steamed pot roast with guacamole and pico de gallo.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What You Did Not See on the Season Premiere of 'Check, Please!'

Blue 13's staff: Publicist Stu Mitchell (from left), manager Paul Martinez, executive chef/owner Chris Curren and owner Dan Marunowski. (Photo: Chris Curren)

One of the guest reviewers on the season nine premiere of Check, Please! flipped out so much over the food at edgy River North newcomer Blue 13 that the crew had to stop filming.

According to sources, the crew had to halt the segment because the reviewer's account was very explicitly detailed about the effect his meal had on him. Apparently, said our source, "The mac 'n' cheese was so good that as soon as dinner was over, he went back to the car with his then girlfriend (now fiancée) and banged her brains out."

Once they got him to tone down his comments, the cameras rolled again.

But what's in this mac 'n' cheese, you ask, that got ol' boy so worked up?! Owner Dan Marunowski says maybe it has to do with the white truffle oil that exec chef Chris Curren's dripping over the entree.

"We have a huge popularity from the mac 'n' cheese," said Marunowski, "but this is the first time I've seen it have this effect on someone."

If this mac 'n' cheese is that good—and leads to a guy putting a ring on it—the staff at Blue 13 needs to bottle it up and sell it!

Watch the "G"-rated version of the Blue 13 review here.

Waverly Inn Chef In; Pops for Champagne Chef Out

John DeLucie, executive chef/partner at NYC's Waverly Inn, appears at a booksigning event at Rockit Bar & Grill Oct. 22. (Photo: John DeLucie)

You probably heard about that $55 white truffle mac 'n' cheese made infamous at New York's Waverly Inn, and here's your chance to sample it for free!

Chef/partner John DeLucie will be in town Oct. 22 signing copies of his bestseller, The Hunger, at Rockit Bar & Grill.

The book is a behind-the-scenes look into his experiences cooking at Greenwich Village’s notorious paparazzi-stalked dining destination. In addition to cocktails comped by small batch bourbon whiskey Basil Hayden, guests will get to nosh on some of DeLucie’s most famous bites, including mini pot pies, cheese tarts with onion marmalade, and of course the signature mac 'n' cheese.

The party's 7-9pm and all you have to do to get in is email

In local chef news, Pops for Champagne exec chef Andrew Brochu (whose background includes cooking at Alinea) is out as of Wednesday, according to an Ultimate Insider. The new fall menu he just introduced will remain the same, now engineered by his sous chef.

And finally, The Drunken Goat's chef/owner Stephanie Izard takes a trip down to Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign, Ill., to taste some amazing goat cheese!

Weekend Cannot Get Any Sweeter Than This . . .


Saturday is Sweetest Day. Do you have plans yet?!

If not, allow 312DD to pub some of our favorite spots when it comes to a little romance. Plus, if you're feeling a little philanthropic, these restos as well as 100 more are participating in the In Good Taste: A Breast Cancer Research Initiative sponsored by the Lynn Sage Foundation. One dollar from each check benefits the worthy organization.

Gold Coast gem Le Colonial offers an amazing prix fixe menu Saturday for $50 per person. You'll get an appetizer, entrée, dessert and glass of cava.

Also, we love the Thali Platter at exotic Uptown eatery Marigold Indian Restaurant. It comes with three tasting portions of curries paired with naan and basmati rice. We highly recommend the succulent Lamb Vindaloo and Murg Makhni (boneless spiced chicken simmered in tomato cream sauce).

And those looking for late-night cocktails should head to Perennial's picturesque corner lounge in Lincoln Park. Just sink into one of the many colorful sofas and indulge in a tasty B2, made with Basil's Hayden bourbon, basil-infused simple syrup and a touch of orange bitters.

Single or going steady . . . there's plenty to do this weekend . . . .


A little Spanish flavor goes a long way at Eivissa, where you can enjoy half-price tapas (4-6pm), $5 caipirinhas and $3 mojitos every Thursday. Bonus: Live Latin band, too! 4pm-2am.

Chaise Lounge just introduced its regional cocktail series, so you'll be able to savor a number of seasonal sippers this fall. Every Tuesday and Thursday they're doing $5 drink specials made from housemade syrups, sweeteners and sour mixes.

Jerrod Melman—the colorful co-owner of HUB 51—kicks off his three-day birthday bash tonight with deejays JEM and NYC's finest KISS. Local spin star DANTE the DON works the tables Friday, and DJ KONSEPT performs Saturday. No cover, but reservations are strongly recommended at 9pm-2am.

Learn more about biodynamic wines during a tasting at Webster Wine Bar. Ales Kristancic and Giusto Occhipinti will be pouring rare, artisinal wines (red, white and sparkling) and speaking about their respective domaines: MOVIA, in Slovenia, and COS, in Sicily. 9pm. $35.

Late-meal seekers should love the new deal over at Tocco. They're offering half price on all pizzas and $5 martinis every Thursday at 10pm. We hear the ones to get are the signature Margherita, vegetarian (with mozzarella and fresh veggies) and prosciutto e funghi.

New York's DJ KISS spins at HUB 51 Thursday for owner Jerrod Melman's birthday. (Photo: DJ KISS)


Around the Coyote Fall Arts Festival returns to Bucktown—where it belongs. The three-day fest kicks off with an opening party tonight at Blu Coral Sushi for free appetizers and $2 domestic/$3 imported beer in the lounge. $20 for a weekend pass.

Deals galore happening over at 44th Ward Dinner Party, which is doing half price on appetizers, soups and salads through Sunday. Also, bingo!


Those heading over to Around the Coyote Fall Arts Festival should first hit up Francesca’s Forno for brunch. You'll find a number of breakfast classics tweaked with Italian accents, including Truffled Egg Toast, a house-cured pancetta with coddled yolk, fontina cheese and mixed greens from northern Italy. The Italian-born chef, Massimo Salatino, has managed to include favorite dishes from every region in Italy. 10am-3pm.


Today kicks off Rioja Wine Week, and Nacional 27 gets in the mix with a number of events happening through Oct. 24. They're doing paella pairings (Suckling Pig and Roast Organic Chicken Paella!), vibrant rioja-based sangrias, wine flights and other deals throughout the week.

And also happening through Oct. 24 is Sofitel’s Vietnamese Week at Cafe des Architectes. It's to celebrate the launch of Sofitel Legend and the premier property, Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, in Vietnam. The three-course dinner menu ($35; $45 with wine pairings) includes traditional fare like Saigonese chicken salad, hue prawns on lemongrass and beef cooked seven different styles—an old Vietnamese recipe used previously to cook tiger meat. Le Bar will also have a Vietnamese appetizer.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bandoleros, Former BIN 36 Chef Involved in Pasha

The Bandoleros are partners in new Randolph Street restaurant Pasha. (Photo: Pasha)

We're expecting big things from Randolph Street newcomer and globally inspired eatery Pasha, now that Daniel Marquis, a former chef at BIN 36, Bistro 110 and Sushi Samba rio is on board.

Set to open Oct. 22 (with grand opening events through Oct. 25), Pasha's owned in part by Latin band Bandoleros and manager Ron Levine, who will certainly keep the scene lively on the regular.

$1,250 gets you closer to the Mole Master . . .

Frontera Grill's Rick Bayless

Just last week, we ran into a guy at RL who was a deadringer for Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Xoco), which reminded me that I needed to write something about this cool event kicking off next week:

The 86 Hunger dinner series brings together Food Depository supporters and some high-profile local chefs to end hungry in our community.

The event kicks off Oct. 21 with a special VIP experience with Bayless—which starts in his magnificent Bucktown garden. The $1,250 package also includes transportation to Frontera Grill, where guests will get to watch the master in his test kitchen and dine in the private room. From 5-9pm you'll get to nosh from a multi-course tasting menu of signature Mexican bites.

If that pricetag's too steep, join Jackie Shen's party at Red Light 6-10pm Oct. 26, where she'll host a family-style dinner of tasty Asian delights. It ends with one of the best desserts we've seen in a long time: her semi-sweet chocolate bag with chocolate mousse, fresh berries and raspberry sauce. $150.

On Oct. 28, new Custom House exec chef Aaron Deal plans to wow guests with a seasonal menu of hearty fare such as a decadent pumpkin lobster bisque, stone crab and an all-natural beef entree. 6-10pm. $150.

Long-time philanthropists Susan and Drew Goss do their part at neighborhood gem West Town Tavern, with homey dishes like country ham-wrapped turkey breast paired with cheddar corn grits and red eye gravy. Also, everything's paired with wine and signature cocktails. 5:30-9:30pm Nov. 8. $150.

At BOKA's event, taking place Nov. 10, Giuseppe Tentori plans to do four amazing courses, including a braised short rib with grilled carrot sauce and crispy polenta. 6-10pm. $150.

And Restaurant Michael, the only suburban spot on the list, offers an interactive experience in its Winnetka home. Guests will get to choose from a number of dishes from chef Michael Lachowicz's five-course menu, but we're totally feeling the breast of Guinea hen stuffed with savory bread pudding. Paired with cocktails. That's 6-10pm Nov. 18. $150.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Stage Bites: The Weekly Dining & Drinking Guide

Fabrice Calmels and April Daily in Joffrey Ballet's season opener of "Othello." (Photo: Herbert Migdoll)

"Where can we get a meal under $30 before Jersey Boys?"

"What's the most romantic spot for drinks near the United Center?"

"Who has the best Mexican food around the Lookingglass Theatre?"

Questions like these hit the 312DD inbox so often that it makes total sense to create a weekly Stage Bites guide.

Every Monday look for the week's top performances paired with the best deals before/after the show:

Joffery Ballet's Othello at Auditorium Theatre Oct. 14-25. Local choreographer Lar Lubovitch gets his shine on for the company's season opener featuring the classic, full-length ballet. Get tickets here.

Custom House: Menu changes daily for the three-course deal, offered nightly at 5 and 5:30pm seatings. $46 per person.

Epic Burger: The all-natural signature burger topped off with a caged-free organic fried egg is the business. $7.

Mercat a la Planxa: Hit up the first-level lounge for potent pitchers of seasonal sangria in red or white. And if you come on Mondays, it's only $1.99 a glass.

Me'Shell Ndegeocello at Old Town School of Folk Music. 7, 10pm shows Oct. 16. Expect a funk-fueled show as the soulful songbird returns with her eighth album, Devil's Halo (Downtown). Get tickets here.

Bistro Campagne: Keep it simple with the Bistro Burger ($13) made with aged Cheddar and Tallgrass beef, or go decadent with a hearty cassoulet ($24) filled with Pinn-Oak Ridge lamb, pork sausage, duck confit, pork belly, cannellini beans and herbed bread crumbs.

Cafe Selmarie: You'll savor the wild mushroom ravioli ($13.75) right down to the last bite, especially the sage-brown butter sauce and toasted panko breadcrumbs. We also love the daily quiche special ($10.50) and sweet potato "fries" with chipotle dipping sauce ($4).

Tiny Lounge: After the show head here and ask for Tito's Hammock—a signature drink that's not on the menu. The vodka-based cocktail comes with crushed ice, thinly sliced lemons and limes, cucumber, and topped off with seltzer. Also great are seriously hand-crafted versions of The Hemingway and Pisco Sour.

The Message Is In The Music (God Is A Black Man Named Ricky) at Black Ensemble Theater Oct. 18-open run. Season opener blasts off with soul-stirring musical featuring hits from Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, The Isley Brothers, The Temptations, The Beatles and Paul Simon. Get tickets here.

Agami Contemporary Sushi: They're doing wine specials every day, plus you can indulge in the "early bird special" of buy one, get one at half off on any maki or entrees such as teriyaki-infused filet mignon or blackened seared tuna. 5-7pm Fridays and Saturdays only.

Anna Maria Pasteria: Get $8 spaghetti dinners and $2 meatballs on Sundays at this North Side institution known for divine handmade pastas and sauces.

Mixteco Grill: BYOB Mexican with high marks for dishes like carne asada, enchiladas rojas and the tamales. Nothing's over $20!

Wish Upon a (Big) Star . . .

Paul Kahan (Photo: Battman Studios)

Big news early on this gloomy holiday morning arrives in the form of something we've been waiting for awhile.

The award-winning chef Paul Kahan's finally given a name to his taco-focused project going into the old Pontiac Cafe space.

Look for Big Star to open sometime in the late fall/early winter season. The honky-tonk inspired bar should be a welcome addition to the Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood indeed.

The menu's simple and inexpensive, offering tacos (including a specialty flavor of the week), queso fundido, and chips and salsa. Plus the drink list reads like a downscaled version of its uppity sister across the street, The Violet Hour, whose bar director, Michael Rubel, created the mixology program.

This is where people will go for nightly whiskey shots, bourbon and updated old-school sippers like La Paloma (Herradura Plata, lime, Squirt made in Mexico), Bakersfield Buck (Old Heaven Hill bottled in bond, lime, AJ Stephans ginger beer) and Tequila Completo (Don Julio Plata with housemade sangrita).

And finally, country music may not be our thing, but something tells us that the way it'll go down here will quickly change our minds. Deejays from sister bar Danny’s Tavern and Reckless Records will spin insurgent country jams.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Change is in the Air

The view from above at Tru, in Streeterville. (Photo: Tru)

It's been quite a busy week for Chicago's chefs.

New blood is everywhere.

In the South Loop, acclaimed chef/restaurateur Shawn McClain handed over the reigns to a new chef at Custom House.

C-House's Seth Siegel-Gardner moves on, making way for a former Lula Cafe chef to interpret Marcus Samuelsson's globally inspired seafood menu.

And get ready for big changes over at TRU. Executive Chef Tim Graham—who was recently hailed as a bright new star by NewCity—just took over the kitchen at Brasserie Jo.

His replacement is Anthony Martin (a former sous chef at three-star Michelin resto Joël Robuchon, in Vegas' MGM Grand Hotel and Casino), another up-and-coming chef who was recruited by Scott Barton, a supervising partner and president of the fine-dining division for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, according to an Ultimate Insider. Martin's been working at TRU for two months now, says manager Serge Kreiger.

Stay tuned for what this new chef de cuisine has planned for the award-winning restaurant, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. We hear the news is going to rock the dining world to its core.

Developing . . .

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sam's Sold To Binny's?!


From an Ultimate Insider:

"I am hearing from folks who have steered me right in the past that the rumor mill is saying that the announcement that Sam's will be sold to Binny's is coming shortly."

A quick scan around the 'net came up with this gem from Wine Berzerkers.

Wow, just wow.

UPDATE: Here's even more detailed information from the Chicago Tribune, which came out about an hour later.

Sightings galore, plus a hot new local couple?!

Robert De Niro was spotted at Spiaggia this week!

Zwecker's got the scoop on a ton of celebs rolling through town:

"As Vince Vaughn graciously worked the room at the party at
Prosecco following the Chicago premiere of his new Couples Retreat comedy, people noticed a nice-looking new couple: NBC-5 anchor Marion Brooks and White Sox GM Kenny Williams."

And . . .

"Given The Little Fockers is filming here, get ready for lots of sightings -- including Robert De Niro at Spiaggia and Jessica Alba at Hub 51 and Jessica Alba at Sunda, where she was joined by Ben Stiller."

An Ultimate Insider tells 312DD that Kenny Williams says that he is only friends with Marion Brooks, and that she has a boyfriend.

Tap That Keg; Slurp That Oyster . . .


Who says grown-ass men and women like us are too old for a good ol' keg party?!

Landmark Grill + Lounge's bucking the trend by throwing a Keg Party and Oyster Fest, but don't go expecting it to be fratastic.

On tap you'll find brews by Goose Island (312, Honkers Ale, Matilda, Harvest Ale), so drink as much as you can handle for $20 ($15 if you can prove you're industry). As part of the deal, guests will also be treated to Executive Chef Kurt Guzowski’s oysters done three ways: baked, fried and raw. Deejay JRose spins. 8pm-2am Thursday.

But wait. There's so much more . . .


If you're bored with the usual wine-pairing dinners, then this one's for you. Otom teams up with the North Shore Distillery's mixology team for a three-course dinner paired with cocktails. Diners will also get to meet the new chef, Thomas Elliot Bowman, who'll lead an informal discussion. 7-9pm. $50.

The 16th annual Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza happens tonight, but it's gonna cost you plenty. $130 ($115 for members) gets you loaded up on the finest booze in the world. You can still register in advance here. 6:30-9pm at The Union League Club of Chicago (65 W. Jackson Blvd.).

Mercat a la Planxa Chef Michael Fiorello demos the tableside paella experience. (Photo: 312 Dining Diva)


You'll know exactly how fresh your paella is over at Mercat a la Planxa, which just introduced a "tableside" experience. After your server sells you on the idea, Chef de Cuisine Michael Fiorello brings over all the ingredients on a pig cart and starts cooking. During his demo, he'll explain all the steps it takes to make the perfect paella, which takes about 25 to 30 minutes. Of course he cannot do everything at the table, so it'll finish baking in the kitchen. It's topped off with grilled marinated chicken breast, saffron aioli and a parsley tomato salad. $40 for paella served tableside on Fridays only.

To observe National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Peninsula's doing its part by donating $2 for every afternoon tea served in the lobby to the charity. That's served daily 3-5pm Monday-Saturday and 4-6pm Sunday. Friday afternoon tea guests will also be treated to informal fashion shows featuring designs from local boutiques and retailers. And $5 from each meal at Avenues and Shanghai Terrace will also be donated to breast cancer research charities.

The guys over at Blue 13 are so excited that they're going to be featured on the season premiere of Check Please! tonight that they're throwing a viewing party. Have dinner at the offbeat contemporary American eatery and indulge in one of their favorite wines, Four Vines Anarchy, on special at $10 a glass. 7-9pm.

Speaking of premiere parties, Enclave's hosting such a ridiculous bash for Nip/Tuck that it's worth a mention. It's sponsored by Liposuction Cosmetic Institute and Longevity Medical Spa, and one "lucky" winner will get $4,500 in treatments. Woot?! 9pm-2am.


It's free day at the Museum of Science & Industry, and while that's exciting and all, we're more giddy about the cooking demo. They've gathered a number of amazing chefs who'll be whipping up allergen free black bean cakes served with fire roasted salsa! The lineup: 10:30am Michelle Garcia (Bleeding Heart Bakery); 11:30am Mike Cisternino (Tavern at the Park); 12:30pm Joshua Linton (ajasteak); 1:30pm Ina Pinkney (Ina's); 2:30pm Lisa Williams (Lisa Cooks Allergen Free).


Rooting for someone special at the Chicago Marathon?! If you're at the finish line, head on over to The Gage when it's over. If it's chilly outside, the buckwheat waffles, traditional Irish breakfast and house-made corned beef hash are certain to warm you up. Brunch's served 10am-2:30pm.


And you'll be rewarded sweetly at The Drawing Room if you help them raise money for Macy's Come Together campaign for Feeding America. Tonight through Oct. 17, donate $10 to the cause and get a complimentary dessert flight (value $12). Your $10 will be matched by Macy's and will provide 140 meals to those in need in the Chicagoland area.