Friday, February 26, 2010

An Absolut-ly 'Berri' Good Time

(Photo: Francis Son Photography)

What happens when you put Chicago's hottest nightlife insiders in a mega-sized room with free booze?! Madness, I tell you, madness.

Absolut Berri Açaí launched this week to much fanfare at a party at the W Hotel City Center, and we were on the scene to catch all the action.

Check out the slideshow here; maybe you'll spot yourself!

Plea: Bring This To Chicago!

(Photo: The Meatball Shop)

There have been many concepts that have done well (Five Guys, Berry Chill), while others never stood a chance (Cereality, Lunch Rolls), but there is one I am definitely rooting for to make its way to the Windy City.

The Meatball Shop just opened in New York, and what's not to love about it?! It's all meatballs all the time in a sleek setting that would definitely attract a clubby crowd.

The menu makes me want to book the next flight out to LaGuardia. First you choose your "balls," locally sourced ingredients that include spicy pork, classic beef, salmon, vegetarian and a weekly special. Then you pick your sauce; choose from spicy meat sauce, classic tomato, mushroom gravy and Parmesan cream. Then pair them up with freshly milled polenta, risotto or mashed potatoes for a hearty meal or tuck them in buns for a Slider or Hero sandwich.

Look, I'm making my plea, so someone, anyone make this happen in Chicago!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Your Official First Look Inside Gilt Bar!

(Photo: Natasha Hernandez)

Our pals over at got a first-look inside Gilt Bar with video and this awesome slideshow.

The best part?! Owner Brendan Sodikoff on camera for the first time talking about his highly anticipated spot: "The concept is basically taking the best of fine dining and giving it to people in a much more casual and fun environment. Everyone's tired of the high prices and wants great drinks, great beer, and good food, so that's what we're doing."

It opens officially to the public on Friday.

What Will Happen To Old Tsunami Space?!


Former Tsunami owner Steve Song has moved on to open Masu Sushi in Lincoln Park, so everyone's wondering what's going to happen in that prime Gold Coast real estate he left behind.

Some media outlets had been speculating for months that Table Fifty-Two's Art Smith was planning to expand his upscale Southern celebrity haven (Just this week Table Fifty-Two attracted the likes of Jessica Simpson and Kirstie Alley) somewhere in the neighborhood, however, no one pointed at the Tsunami space.

Smith admitted to 312DD that there was going to be somewhat of an offshoot of his restaurant, but he is not the force behind it.

"The new restaurant is a creation of my investment partner, Fred Latsko," Smith says. "We are very excited about this fun BBQ concept that he is doing."

Who is Fred Latsko?! He just happens to be one of the most prominent commercial real-estate developers in the city, who was behind the new Barneys New York, Elysian Hotel as well as other major properties in Lincoln Park and Gold Coast.

According to this story in Crain's Chicago, the old Tsunami space at 1160 N. Dearborn St. is part of an 11-building portfolio that's been on the market for $46 million since June 2009.

We'll watch what happens . . .

Hope This Never Rolls Into Chicago!

(Photo: K! Pizzacone)

K! Pizzacone—specializing in pizza in cones—debuted in New York Wednesday to mixed reviews, and I can see why. Who the hell wants pizza grease and toppings dropping all over their clothing after the first bite?!

Gothamist reports that the concept was first popularized in Brazil, Portugal and Italy, so I guess it makes sense to launch it first in Manhattan in the United States.

Judging from the comments in the story, folks are not exactly crazy about it:

"I saw one of these on 5th and 34th. How exactly does it work? Won't cheese and shit pour out once you take a bite into the side of the cone?"

"There are many things that could be done to improve the quality of most of the pizza in NYC. This is not one of them."

"Ever since I heard about 'Cup o' Pizza' in the movie, 'The Jerk,' I always wondered why no one started one up. Now, 31 years later, the dream is reality."

But they did get at least one glowing review:

"My uncle and I tried this place on Friday because they were having a preview day to run out kinks and whatnot. I thought that it would just pour out once you take a bit, but it's not a crispy crust, it's softer than it looks. I enjoyed it, but it was expensive. I wish they had bigger ones because I would equate three of those to one actual slice of pizza. The amount of toppings they have is great though, and it tasted really fresh and not oily."

Whatever the case, we're sure it wouldn't get a warm reception in Chicago either. Hell, we're just now getting used to thin-crust pizza!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do . . .


. . . but if "you've realized it's not you, it's her. So it's time to end it," says a cold-blooded Urban Daddy, which offers five spots to let them down gently.

For example, they've highlighted Uptown's low-key Tank Noodles:

"With all the glamour of your average Greyhound station, this corner restaurant is great if you're afraid there might be a scene: bright, bustling and with large tables to keep you and your soon-to-be ex literally at arm's length. Bonus: the non-native English speaking clientele may not be familiar with some of the more choice words that will be thrown your way."

Ooooooh, that's so harsh!

Jessica Simpson Loves Fried Chicken


On Tuesday, I got the scoop that Michael Jordan had lunch at Market.

Today's famous lunch bunchers were pop star Jessica Simpson "and her posse," who showed up at Table Fifty-Two when it was not even open, according to an awesome Ultimate Insider:

"My girl at Table 52 just told me that the staff was told last minute today that Jessica Simpson was coming in for lunch (they weren't even open for lunch yet) with her posse. She wanted fried chicken and they don't even have it on the menu today! LOL. Sous chefs and all were running into work early to get the food ready. Now Kirstie Alley is there filming her reality show."

Kirstie Alley and Jessica Simpson in the same day?! Wow!

UPDATE: Apparently Table Fifty-Two owner/chef Art Smith was also excited because he wrote on his Facebook page later in the day:

"Wow, the eve before South Beach, and Jessica Simpson, calls me for lunch! She's gorgeous!!!!!!!! I am now entertaining Kristie Alley and posse, they are here shooting her new show for A and E. Lookout for my cameo!"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chicago's Secret Party Loft . . .

A recent Mr. Topstep party at the "Monster Loft."

Gawker ran a story Tuesday about a New York restaurant industry vet whose Manhattan apartment is the hottest spot in town.

His parties attract the likes of high-profile types ranging from rock stars like Mick Jagger to socialites and media insiders from the New York Post, NBC and New York Times.

Naturally something so cool made me wonder if we had something like that going on in Chicago, so I put the word out on Twitter.

Immediately, a guy who goes by the Twitter handle [@redacted] reached out to tell me about his all-night fêtes, which apparently happen often.

"(I'm only gonna give) you the tip of the iceberg," he says, yet he gave me enough information to make me want to attend the next one.

According to the promoter, his last party cost $10,000, attracted at least 500 people, and featured a bottomless open bar and trampoline in the middle of the room.

If you don't believe me, peep the video here of the massive space before the party and the pictures here of one of their previous events.

Just one question: Where is my invite?!

'Jimmy D' Returns to 'Millionaire Matchmaker!'

Citizen Bar owner Jimmy D’Ambrosio will appear on Bravo's "Millionaire Matchmaker." (Photo: Citizen Bar)

What we love best about Patti Stanger, the producer and irascible star of Bravo's "Millionaire Matchmaker," is that she'll put you in your place no matter who you think you are.

One of the people who found out just how bad ass Stanger is was Chicago's own Jimmy "Jimmy D" D’Ambrosio, who appeared on an episode last season.

The cocky, 31-year-old high roller made his fortune as owner of Citizen Bar, Suite Lounge and Wet Nightclub as well as a high-profile career as a professional poker player, so he's used to getting his way. But that wasn't the case when he went head to head with the outspoken Stanger when he seriously messed up on a date.

For some reason, he's returning to take the heat for a second time. Who knows, maybe this guy's a masochist because he certainly got his b*lls ripped out last season. Catch him as the episode runs at 9pm March 2 on Bravo.

He's also hosting a viewing party the night the episode airs at Citizen, so you'll be able to rub elbows with this swingin' single. Or did he get lucky this time around?!

The party starts at 8pm; themed cocktails include The Millionaire Martini, Patti Pop and Matchmaker Koolaid. No cover.

UPDATE: Here's the video from last season:

How Sweet is This?!

Hot Chocolate's Mindy Segal. (Photo: Mindy Segal)

Stella's Column reports that über celeb pastry chef Mindy Segal (Hot Chocolate) will appear on "Martha Stewart" this week:

"CHICAGO'S MINDY Segal, pastry chef and owner of Hot Chocolate Restaurant and Dessert Bar on North Damen Avenue, will be on 'The Martha Stewart Show' on WMAQ-Channel 5 at 11 a.m. Thursday. Stewart's 'Female Chef Show; will showcase some of America's best women chefs and their favorite dishes. Mindy will make her popular banana brioche monkey bread with butterscotch and almond brittle. Kudos to Martha for recognizing Chicago's food gurus. Last week, the Hyatt Hotels' top pastry chef, Alain Roby, was on."

Very cool for Mindy!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Most Mispronounced Foodie Words

Gnocchi is pronounced "NYOH-kee."

The Stew offers a fun feature on the most mispronounced foodie words, but the best part is in the comments section when readers attempt to "correct" the author on spelling/pronunciation on pączki and panini:

"'Panini' is plural; the singular is 'panino' and is the diminuative of 'pane,' which is a bread roll. 'Panino imbottito' is Italian for sandwich."

"Good try on pączki, but by missing the curlycue at the bottom of the ą you spelled 'packages' instead of 'donuts.'"

"Uh no, Paczki is not pronounced 'Poonch-key,' It's pronounced 'PONE-chkey' where PONE rhymes with Own."

Stage Bites: The Weekly Dining & Drinking Guide

Danielle de Niese stars as "Susanna" in "The Marriage of Figaro" at Civic Opera House. (Photo: Ken Howard)

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

The Alcyone Festival 2010 at Lincoln Square Theater (Berry United Methodist Church, 4754 N. Leavitt Ave.). The works of prominent Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornés are explored, including Letters from Cuba, Manual for a Desperate Crossing and Summer in Gossensass. 8pm Thursday-Saturday; 3pm Saturday (through Feb. 27). Get tickets here.

Bistro Campagne: Chicago Restaurant Week continues through Sunday, and you'll luckily be able to get the deal at this popular French bistro. Three courses for $32 includes entree choices Miller Farms roasted chicken topped with wild mushroom ragoût, grilled wild salmon with roasted Brussels sprouts, and steak frites.

LM Le Restaurant: Another French-focused neighborhood resto is on the Chicago Restaurant Week beat. Menu specials include pan-seared Diver scallops, brown butter crepes and beef cheek Bourguignon. $32 for three courses here too.

Tank Sushi: You'll find tasty maki on the menu at this highly recommended area fave, but also great is that you can get it half-price 1:30-6pm every Saturday and Sunday.

Deleece's stuffed pork. (Photo: Deleece)

Desperately Seeking at Chemically Imbalanced Theater . If you've had experience with personal ads, you'll definitely appreciate this improvisation based on a random ad from the Chicago Reader's "Matches" section. BYOB, but bring your own cups, ice and bottle opener. 8pm Saturday (ends Feb. 27). Get tickets here.

Deleece: There's a number of tasty items on the menu, but we especially dig the grilled pork tenderloin stuffed with spinach and bacon, and served with garlic green beans, a savory apple cobbler and champagne caramel demi glaze.

Frida's: Head here after the performance for late-night botanas , or "Mexi-tapas," that are served after 10pm Thursday-Saturday.

Tango Sur: Bring enough booze for supper and the show because this Argentinian, meat-centric spot is BYOB. The menu never changes, but bring a good group to take advantage of heaving plates of grilled steaks, seafood and chicken.

Prairie Fire's spicy grilled goat sausage. (Photo: Ron Kaplan)

The Marriage of Figaro at Civic Opera House. Mozart's most famous opera (based on a stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais) stars Kyle Ketelsen, Danielle de Niese, Anne Schwanewilms, Mariusz Kwiecien and Joyce DiDonato. Edward Gardner conducts. 2pm Feb. 28. Get tickets here.

N9NE: The West Loop's toniest steakhouse is also participating in Chicago Restaurant Week, with choices like organic salmon dressed up with a Chinese mustard glaze and a Hangar marinated steak paired with garlic fries. The deal's $32 for three courses, but for an additional $10 you can add popular snacks like the crispy rock shrimp or lobster risotto.

Prairie Fire: The West Loop's newest hot spot is owned by award-winner chef Sarah Stegner. Head here for brunch (9:30am-2pm Saturday-Sunday) items like the bacon waffle with maple syrup or the golden browned chicken schnitzel with lemon-caper sauce and sautéed local potatoes. Or, if you can wait until the restaurant opens for dinner at 5pm, definitely get the spicy grilled goat sausage.

Province: The organic-focused resto participates in Chicago Restaurant Week with pan-roasted West Coast Petrale sole and Gunthorp Farms duck confit, but we need to tell you how excited we are that they put the carrot cake on the special menu! It's topped with honey ice cream in a honey-vanilla drizzle.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Update on Girl and the Goat . . .

Computer-generated rendering of Girl & the Goat. (Photo: 555 Design Fabrication Management)

Girl and the Goat owner/chef Stephanie Izard gives us an update on her latest project:

"well the restaurant is coming along, what seemed slowly but surely, but now at a rapid pace. and i am freakin’ out. not really… i am very excited, but just after so much time to have it so near is crazy!

"the bar is one of my favorite design elements. our designer, karen, from 555 design found a number of old fireplaces that will be polished off and used to create a gorgeous and unique backbar. for those who know me, and for many of you that do not, you know that the bar and i are dear friends. i am excited that we will be serving an array of north american craft beers. my friend lincoln who works with our friends at three floyds is helping with the beer list, as he knows more about beer than anyone i know."

On an unrelated note, but up the street in the former Randolph Street location for Bar Louie (741 W. Randolph St.), some activity is going down. An astute Ultimate Insider spotted brown paper over the windows and a sign stating that Haymarket Brewing is the new owner.

Not sure if that's the name of the new venue or the new owners, but we'll let you know soon . . .

'They Brought 'Jersey Shore' to Chicago!'

The Situation caused quite a scene Friday at Lumen. (Photo: Meredith Gregory)

"Jersey Shore" stars Pauly D and Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino made quite an impact on Chicago's nightcrawlers during a party in their honor at Lumen Friday.

"The Situation did get drunk to the point that his security guys were propping him up," says an Ultimate Insider who was on the scene. "Pauly D was low key and only did his deejay set, but The Situation was picking girls out of the crowd to bring them back to the VIP area. It was hilarious. They definitely brought the 'Jersey Shore' to Chicago. I've never seen anything like it!"

Our pals over at documented all the madness here with about 60 photos for your viewing pleasure.


(Photo: Chicago Tribune)

We totes lived vicariously through the Chicago Tribune's Kevin Pang and Keith Claxton as they embarked upon BBQ Roadtrip '10—an ambitious, 72-hour project that took them to eight states over the weekend.

Armed with Maximum-Strength Pepto Bismol, Purell anti-bacterial gel and paper towels (and laptops and car!), they managed to chow down on Baby Back ribs, pulled pork and "hot" chicken in the likes of downstate Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee and Alabama:

"FRIDAY, 9:30 a.m. We didn't eat breakfast, obviously. We saved stomach space for what Mike Mills was to feed us. Mills, proprietor of the 17th Street Bar & Grill empire, is to the barbecue fraternity what Kobayashi is to competitive eating. Say his name to those in the know and a chorus of ooooh's follows. ... I'm somewhat swayed by an empty stomach, but truth be told, his baby backs were the best I've ever had. Mills appreciates the meat too much to tamper with it. A bit of 'Magic Dust' seasoning, a kiss of smoke and a light slather of sauce doesn't upstage, but amplifies the ribs. It's a gorgeous piece of work."

Reading about this BBQ extravaganza has me reaching for the Maximum-Strength Pepto Bismol right now!

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Smashing Pumpkin Surfaces; Stella & Dot Party

(Photo: Jason Lewis,

Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan headlined a benefit at LaSalle Power Co. for the 10th anniversary benefit for NorthShore University HealthSystem's Integrative Medicine program, and our friends at had a front-row seat.

Corgan's still got juice, evidenced by the large turnout at the massive River North bar. Peep the pics here if you don't believe us . . .

Also hot last night: the Outlaw Graffiti party at the Blackstone Hotel and Stella & Dot's fabulous fete at Vertigo for its spring/summer jewelry line.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Get Ready for an Izakaya in the City . . .


Steve "The Hungry Hound" Dolinsky introduces us to Masu Sushi, what he considers to be Chicago's first-ever izakaya, or Japanese gastropub.

It's going into the old space vacated in 2009 by Minnies, in Lincoln Park, and here's what Dolinsky has to say:

"Izakayas are convivial places, with a bit more of a male-driven culture. They are boisterous, full of conversation, premium sake and tall bottles of Japanese beer. While they offer some raw sushi and sashimi, it’s the small, cooked items that set them apart from their Japanese brethren.

"(Masu Sushi owner Steve) Song says he’ll offer basic, home-style cooking, with a lot of rice bowls. Typical Japanese drinking snacks like dried salted filefish or seasoned fried anchovies, sardines or smelts will be commonplace. Grilled yakitori (skewers), braised dishes, fresh sashimi, and alcohol-soaking fried foods will round out the menu."

Nice. Something totally new and needed for that area! Masu Sushi is set to open the first week of March.

Cheers to National Drink Wine Day Weekend!

Master Sommelier Alpana Singh (Photo: Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises)

Today's National Drink Wine Day, but bump that. Just for you, we're going to extend it through the weekend!

312DD searched high and low for the absolute best wine deals in the city, starting with Master Sommelier Alpana Singh's event tonight at Frankie’s Fifth Floor.

Singh—who was just nominated for a James Beard Award in the "Outstanding Wine & Spirits Professional" category—will mingle with the crowd, introducing guests to interesting new vino as they munch on apps and thin-crust pizza. Guests will also get gift certificates for a future trip to Frankie's as well as meet with DNA 2050's denim specialist. The party's $15 and 5-7pm Thursday, but if you stick around you can enjoy amazing glasses of wine for $5, which are available in the restaurant every day.

Raise your glass to even more wine-focused events this weekend:


BIN 36 reopens tonight since shutting down after Valentine's Day. The wine/resto/boutique turned 10 in 2009, so it's about time for them to make some changes. They've adding more artisan cheeses to pair with their magnificent wines, plus Beard nominated wine director Brian Duncan and exec chef John Caputo just launched a blog offering a new approach to wine, travel and food coverage.

More than 25 wines will be waiting for you at Red Canary during the Chicago Wine Council's first event of the year. It'll be a great chance to meet like-minded oenophiles and check out one of the hottest spaces in River West. 6-9pm. $40 at door (cash only).

Lakeview's fave pizza-wine joint Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar may be one of the few spots in town really celebrating National Drink Wine Day. A four-course feast pairs each bite with booze, which you should definitely appreciate. 7pm. $50.

To fete 10 years in biz, Randolph Wine Cellars/The Tasting Room is giving away a free bottle of wine to every 10th customer in February.

We'll take a blind tasting over a blind date any day! Just Grapes pits pricey potions against wallet-friendly wines to see if you can tell the difference. Location's in the West Loop, so you can scoot right after work. 5:30-7:30pm. $25.

Main bar at In Fine Spirits (Photo: In Fine Spirits)


One of the best-kept secrets in Ukrainian Village is A. Vision, where the Friday night wine tastings attract a good neighborhood crowd. They're generously pouring wines you can buy in this nifty boutique setting. 5:30-7:30pm. Free.

More wine's being poured at the annual Wine, Beer & Art Party hosted by the 20/30 Club. Party's ideal for single guys and gals alike, as last year it attracted almost 200 young professionals. All proceeds benefit Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, Horizons For Youth, HighSight, HFS Chicago Scholars and MGR Foundation. 7-11pm at Mars Gallery (1139 W. Fulton Market). $35 in advance here; $45 at door.


Every Saturday, Red & White does free vino tastings 2-5pm. Get your drink on and then take a couple of bottles to enjoy at nearby Costa Rican BYOB Irazu.

Twice a month, you'll get to indulge in free wine tastings at In Fine Spirits, and this is your lucky week! We're not sure which bottles they'll be pouring, but expect something exceptional. 3-6pm.


We don't do wine for brunch, but we're all about the sparkling wine deal at Angelina Ristorante, in Lakeview. For $20, you'll get bottomless bubbly/Mimosas to complement your brunch items of Eggs Benedict, French toast or the house specialty, Fritatta Toscano. 11am-2pm.

All Lush locations (Roscoe Village, University Village, West Town) hold free tastings on lazy Sunday afternoons. It's up to the staff to decide which bottles they'll pop open; all you have to do is show up. 2-5pm. Free.

And The Bluebird teams up with painter Leslie Baum for The Salon Series. They're pairing three courses with wine that's followed by a discussion about Baum's art. Starts at 7pm. $35; reservations required.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

'Top Chef' Alum Takes Over at English

Radhika Desai has been named executive chef of English. (Photo: Radhika Desai)

Former "Top Chef" contestant Radhika Desai is taking over as executive chef at English, in River North.

An Ultimate Insider tells us that she'll start in mid- to late-March, and we're looking forward to the changes on the typical pub grub menu.

Our source says to expect seasonal items, plus Desai plans to incorporate her rich ethnic background into the mix. Look for contemporary Indian accents to blend seamlessly with English-focused dishes and appetizers.

Desai was previously exec chef at Between Boutique Cafe and Lounge, which is now up for sale because its owners are working on a new project in Downers Grove.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Tea Party!


OK, so we're all really just big kids at heart, right?!

Put 312DD 100 percent down for Four Seasons' Mad Afternoon Tea Party happening opening weekend of Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" (starring Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway and Johnny Depp!).

In addition to finger sandwiches and Wonderland-inspired pastries, expect a truly mad décor, tea cup decorating, Royal Chess and Red Queen’s Croquet, using the traditional pink flamingos as mallets.

Seatings begin at 3pm on March 6; reservations highly recommended. It's $15 for kids and $32 for big kids.

You're certain to have fun, but just don't lose your head!

Our Chefs Are Much Nicer on Twitter

Phillip Foss, executive chef at Lockwood (Photo: Lockwood)

Lockwood's Phillip Foss is perhaps the most daring chef in town—when it comes to Twitter.

Gems like this, this and this get him noticed for his humor as much as for his food—but he always plays nice.

But that's not always the case in New York, says the New York Times, which highlights some rogue chefs using Twitter to go after competing chefs, suppliers, critics, bloggers and even customers:

"For many chefs in the current economic climate, cooking no longer seems enough. To make their names, they need to develop online personas as well as culinary ones. And with instant access to the Web, chefs—who have traditionally been walled up behind the dining room—are bursting out and talking back, often more profanely than can be conveyed here."

Thank God Chicago's chefs have more restraint, but for the best info—and laughs—you should definitely be following the engaging Stephanie Izard, John des Rosiers, Mark Mendez, Grant Achatz, Rodelio Aglibot, Rick Gresh, Rick Bayless and Dan Tucker.

500 Benjamins or Bust . . .

Kyle McHugh of Drinks Over Dearborn (Photo: Kyle McHugh)

. . . is what Drinks Over Dearborn owner Kyle McHugh says he needs in order to continue to do business in his River North venue.

The self-described "boozehound" appeals to the public on his website to get his specialty spirits, wine and beer boutique back in black:

"I have done everything I can possibly imagine to help Drinks Over Dearborn weather our country's current financial situation, but I'm now out of money, out of credit, and out of time. We simply can not continue to go forward in the state we are in financially, and there is still no money available from banks or the SBA for a small alcohol-related business from any of the many sources I've tapped in the last few weeks."

McHugh says he needs 500 people to start an account ($100 minimum) at his shop by 5pm Feb. 28 in order to stay in business. Participants would be able to purchase spirits, glasses as well as upcoming classes and events. Customers will also get a five percent discount on all items in the store and access to VIP in-store events.

He'll be doing a 24-hour webcast telethon—live from Drinks Over Dearborn—beginning at 5pm Feb. 27 and ending at the deadline of 5pm Feb. 28. The in-store event will feature live music and comedians, plus there will be plenty of booze to abuse, just in case this is the last call.

UPDATE: In less than 24 hours, they've managed to get 97 pledges! McHugh posted an update on Twitter Wednesday afternoon.

Don't Forget to Cast Your Ballot . . .


. . . in the annual Time Out Chicago's Eat Out Awards.

A number of noteworthy chefs, restos, mixologists, specialty shops and bakeries deserve your vote, plus your girl is also up for Best Indie Restaurant Blog.

That's right! 312 Dining Diva has finally been recognized for its tireless and unique coverage of Chicago's vibrant dining and nightlife scene.

Vote here; you've got until 9am March 15 . . .

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Juicy Wine Co. Sold!


Just got word from an Ultimate Insider that West Town wine spot Juicy Wine Co. has been sold.

This story is developing and 312DD will have more info as it comes in, but right now we know that it will remain open.

Co-owned by the innovative Rodney Alex, who threw some of the most ingenious parties to attract wine-loving hipsters (most memorably Tasting of Terror Halloween Bash, The Breakfast Club and The Dirty Bird Bubble Bath), Juicy in its original incarnation will certainly be missed!

UPDATE: Time Out Chicago got Alex on record on why he's selling the biz.

Kit Kat Throws 'Avatar'-Themed Oscars Party!


We're actually excited about this!

The Academy Awards—as well as the Red Carpet and Oscars viewing parties—have become painfully predictable, so thank God we've got the whole "Avatar" theme to shake things up this year.

It would be a little awkward to go to a "Precious," "Inglourious Basterds" or "Up in the Air" themed bash, but we'll welcome the behemoth blue Na’vi any day!

Lakeview's Kit Kat hosts the party, which means its usually lounge-like dining room and bar will be transformed into the mysteriously beautiful planet of Pandora.

Guests will walk a blue carpet (first 50 guests get a gift bag filled with blue boas and Hpnotiq giveaways), and Kit Kat Diva Aurora Sexton will be decked out as the exotic warrior princess Neytiri.

Of course, being Kit Kat, there will be live performances in drag, plus a drink special. The Avatar Princess martini comes with Effen vodka, Hpnotiq liqueur, a splash of pineapple juice and adorned with rock candy and a blue glow stick for $5.

Plus, the awards will be shown on seven oversize projection screens throughout the venue. Pay attention because one lucky person will have a chance to win a grand prize worth $500 (prize includes "Avatar" PlayStation 3 video game and a Swarovski crystal-bedazzled Hpnotiq bottle).

Doors open at 5:30pm March 7; awards begin at 7pm. No cover.

Wine Director Leaving NoMI

Fernando Betata, Master Sommelier at NoMI (Photo: NoMI)

The Chicago Tribune's Bill Daley reports that Master Sommelier Fernando Betata, who serves as wine director for NoMI, will leave his post later this week.

The Guatemalan native is "moving on to pursue a new opportunity," which he hasn't disclosed yet . . .

Celebrities Invest in New Harry Caray's

James Denton of "Desperate Housewives" fame is one of several celebrity investors in the new Harry Caray's on Navy Pier.

What sets the new Harry Caray's Tavern apart from the others?!

This outpost boasts serious star power, says the Chicago Tribune.

Thirty investors include Hollywood elite like James Denton ("Desperate Housewives") and Jeremy Piven ("Entourage") as well as former and current pro athletes Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks), Ryne Sandberg and Ernie Banks (Chicago Cubs).

It opens March 1 on Navy Pier.

Bring on the Beads . . .


Five fabulous fetes you don't want to miss on Fat Tuesday:

Dunlays on Clark: The party starts at 4:30pm at the Lincoln Park location for this lively neighborhood spot. They're bringing in a Zydeco band that'll complement a special menu of shrimp Po' Boys, crispy catfish bites, Cajun shrimp & crawfish risotto, and chicken and waffles. Also, $5 Hurricanes and $4 Albita beer. No cover.

House of Blues: Switchfoot and Windy City Rev Ups are the bands shaking up the stage at the bash hosted by Zatarain's. Also, get ready for heaving plates of Mardi Gras favorites like jambalaya, a red beans and rice party dip and Creole-style chicken wings. Party starts at 6pm. $10.

Lagniappe Creole Cajun Joynt: Expect shenanigans at this popular South Side eatery with a Mardi Gras theme 24/7. The Phil Fornett Jazz Group performs; a buffet will have all the jambalaya you can eat. 6-10pm. $20.

Moonshine: Get signature Creole and Cajun dishes at the always bustling Wicker Park bar, but we're more excited about Cajun karaoke kicking off at 9pm. To get you on stage, they're doing $5 Hurricanes. Added to the menu are authentic Muffaletta sandwiches as well as shrimp and Andouille sausage gumbo. 9pm-2am. No cover.

Rock Bottom Restaurant: And you might as well call in sick tomorrow if you're heading over to this bash kicking off at 11am. They've just released the Big Easy Ale ($3), plus you can suck down bottomless Hurricanes at $4 each. Soak up the booze with discounted apps until 6pm. 11am-2am. No cover.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Publican Gets Props From Forbes!

(Photo: Bob Briskey Photography)

Forbes just came out with its annual list of America's Best New Restaurants, and The Publican was the only Chicago spot to make it:

"The Publican, which was opened by the team behind Blackbird and Avec (the bacon-wrapped, chorizo-stuffed dates at Avec are not to be skipped on any visit to Chicago, period), is modeled after a European beer hall. Appropriately there are dozens of brews to choose from, all to be paired with hearty meat dishes that are simple, elegant and filling.

"It's all about pork in all of its guises and artisan beer to wash it all down," says master sommelier Richard Betts, cofounder of the Betts & Scholl wines and Sombra Mezcal. "[It's a] really fun, beer-hall type of addition to Chicago's already young and fun scene."


Stage Bites: The Weekly Dining & Drinking Guide

Legendary punk rocker Patti Smith performs at the Park West Saturday.

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

Abigail's Party at A Red Orchid Theatre. If you think those Bravo "Housewives" series are hysterical, you're certain to love this satirical look at a suburban housewife's party gone wrong. 8pm Thursdays-Saturdays; 3pm Sundays (through March 28). Get tickets here.

33 Club: Chops and steaks and seafood take centerstage at this opulent two-level steakhouse harking back to the "olden" days. Or, you can hang out in the bustling bar area for lighter bites like the truffle mac and cheese, bacon popcorn and crispy tilapia tacos.

Eivissa: Get tix to Friday's performance of Abigail's Party, which includes an after-party at this clubby spot for a discussion of the play with ensemble members, sangria and tapas. Get $50 tickets here.

Perennial: The stylish resto helmed by chef Ryan Poli is part of the third-annual Chicago Restaurant Week (Feb. 19-28). For din-din, you'll get three courses for $32, which includes choices like red wine-braised short rib, black truffle gnocchi and a crispy hazelnut bar (milk chocolate, crème fraiche, chocolate caramel) to feed that sweet tooth.

The main dining room at 33 Club. (Photo: 33 Club)

Hopefest featuring Patti Smith at Park West. The legendary punk rockin' queen headlines a benefit for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Troubled Identity also performs. 8pm Saturday. SOLD OUT.

Gemini Bistro: This Lincoln Park newcomer is also part of Chicago Restaurant Week. The three-course, $32 menu includes some of their favorite dishes, including a creamless tomato soup, short rib ravioli, steak frites, and Amish chicken with mashed potatoes.

Stanley's: Before the show, fill up on good country cooking from this down home-style corner spot. Hell, just make it an all-fried night, from the Kentucky Fried Tomatoes to the Southern Style Fried Chicken to Chicken Fried Steak. All items under $13.

The Exchange cocktail lounge in Wicker Park. (Photo: The Exchange)

Whack! The Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan Story, A Karaoke Musical at Gorilla Tango Theatre. Since we're all in the spirit of Winter Olympics, why not reminisce on the days when Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding were in the news?! The creators of the Tabloid Musical Series are back with this delightful drama on ice. 9:30pm Thursdays (through Feb. 25). Get tickets here.

The Exchange: Go somewhere else if you want wine, beer or simple mixed drinks. But if you're in the mood for inventive cocktails created by master mixologist Peter Vestinos, head here after the show for The Firefly (made with New Holland Knickerbocker Gin, Alpine liqueur, chartreuse, lime, egg white, bitters) and The Challenge (Tanqueray gin, Antica vermouth, cynar).

Sabor Saveur: This BYOB serves sumptuous, French-Mex cuisine, but the real deal is its nightly prix-fixe menu where you get five courses for $40. Must-haves: veal medallions marinated in tamarind mango sauce and beet salad served with avocado, mango, papaya and ricotta. Special menu served 5-7pm.

Usagi Ya: Located right next door to the theater, the somewhat hidden sushi spot offers an enviable list of specialties, including grilled oysters on the half shell, lemongrass boneless chicken and Ton Katsu (pan-fried pork tenderloin with Panko bread crumbs).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Shrimp and Grits Throwdown Hits Town!


Just in time for Lenten season, three local chefs plan to face off in an epic Shrimp and Grits throwdown to find out who makes this Southern dish best.

A challenge came about on Twitter in January, and Supreme Lobster's Carl Galvan helped get Paul Fehribach (Big Jones), David Carrier (Kith and Kin) and Cary Taylor (The Southern) on board.

"All these guys do really good shrimp and grits, but in their own way," says Galvan. "And you know that when these chefs get together it's going to be all about bourbon, beer and people getting hammered."

Galvan says the event is in the beginning stages right now, but hopes it will take place some time in March or early April. It will also be open to the public.

Taylor, from The Southern, says he has a great chance of winning the challenge because he's using all sustainable and organic ingredients.

"I use really good grits from Three Sisters Farms in Kankakee, plus you've got a Southern boy cooking it," he says. "I've been cooking like this all my life."

But he's got some stiff competition coming as Kith and Kin's Carrier promises to bring it.

"I definitely belong in the fight," Carrier says about his signature dish that includes grits from Anson Mills and a housemade shrimp broth. "I'm going to make what we're already serving at the restaurant and we're not going to add any additional ingredients."

Just tell me where I need to be with a plate, knife and fork!

Sweet Treats and Inexpensive Eats . . .


If you've been together for a long time—or just getting into a new relationship—the last thing you want to do is go overboard on Valentine's Day.

I'm not gonna get all preachy, but as long as you're enjoying each other's company it really shouldn't matter what you're doing.

For example, a great interactive event this weekend happens at Delilah’s, in Lincoln Park. They're hosting the annual Vintage Beer Festival where you'll sample more than 100 craft beers from the likes of Thomas Hardy’s Ale, Harvey’s Elizabethan and Skull Splitter, plus regional faves Three Floyds, Goose Island, Two Brothers and Bell’s & Lakefront Brewing. Reps will be on hand to discuss the brews.

If you didn't know anything about craft beers, you will by the time you leave. Noon-5pm Saturday. $20 per person.

So much more going on this weekend where you won't have to spend a lot of $$$:


TOAST on The Magnificent Mile, an annual celebration featuring the area's top spots and sponsored by Moët & Chandon, continues throughout the month. When it comes to timeless romance, you can never go wrong in the exotic upstairs lounge at Le Colonial, which is doing a $15 special on Moët Bellinis (lychee, mango, guava) and Moët & Chandon Imperial by the glass.

If you can manage to snag one of those sweet sofas in the front of the bar at Tavern on Rush, we suggest going for their Sweet and Savory special for the month. They're pairing Moët with raspberry crème brûlée, shortbread almond cookies, strawberry cheesecake, and a selection of artisan cheeses, fresh fruit and French bread. Available for $16.95 through the month except Valentine's Day.

Speaking of French, you're certain to sweep her off her feet at cozy Bistro 110 as they're also in on the Moët special. Share a trio of hand-crafted Moët & Chandon Impérial champagne cocktails paired with three petite dessert creations for $16.95.


Even more budget bites with bubbly can be had at Lawry’s The Prime Rib, which is doing a three-tier "sweet display" served tableside for two. Each person gets a glass of Moët & Chandon Rosé Impérial, plus chocolate-dipped strawberries, fresh fruit kabobs with Grand Marnier topping and additional chocolate desserts. Available Fridays, Saturdays in February. $45 per couple.

Upscale Greek resto Taxim's featuring dishes made with aphrodisiac ingredients on Friday and Saturday. Special menu items include Nistísimo tahinópsomo me amygdalógalo (toasted tahini bread, Kalamáta figs, almond milk ice; $6); Kremidákia kai xirinó me méli (smoked pork belly, caramelized pearl and cipollini onions, Attikí honey; $8); and Païdákia me pligoúri (wood-grilled rack of lamb, olive and bulgur wheat pilaf, toasted almonds, fresh oregano and pine nut skordaliá; $28).

Take a date to Stone Lotus for the second-annual Love at First Bite event, which is raising money for the American Red Cross in its efforts to help rebuild Haiti. Your $20 ticket includes sweets from local artisans, plus comped cocktails. 11pm-4am.


You typically won't get "movie and dinner" recs from me, but I'll make an exception when it comes to ShowPlace Icon Theatre in the South Loop. This weekend they're showing a number of romantic movies, including "Avatar 3D," "Dear John" and "Valentine's Day." After the movie, head to the adjacent Lobby Bar and sit in the window for one of the best skyline views in the city. Full bar, flatbread pizzas, appetizers in a jazzy space.

One of Roscoe Village's best date night spots, Volo is doing a special three-course, prix-fixe menu Saturday and Sunday for $41 per person. This is a pretty intimate wine bar too, so if you just want to gaze in each other's eyes over glasses of vino, there's always room at the bar.


We're getting really good feedback about brunch at The Southern, which just opened last week. Highlights include the spicy cheese grits, morning tacos (fresh avocado, black bean puree, toasted cumin, scrambled eggs, chipotle salsa) and the chicken and biscuits—buttermilk-soaked half chicken, Tasso ham and rosemary gravy. All items are under $14. 11am-5pm.

And is there anything sexier than Samba?! Brazilian brunch spot Sinha still has reservations available 2, 3:30 and 5:30pm, where you'll get authentic South American cuisine in this cozy, two-level BYOB venue. After dinner, get ready to dance it all off on the dance floor! $30 per person.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Glazed Donuts Goes Underground . . .

Maple Bacon-infused donuts from Glazed. Now I need a donut fix! (Photo: Glazed Donuts Catering)

There's been a lot of uproar since Monica Eng's story on how the city's health department destroyed thousands of dollars of local fruit that a number of niche caterers, small-batch food artisans, specialty pastry chefs and supperclubs relied on for their businesses.

Also affected was Glazed Donuts, independent donut artisans who we first discovered back in 2008.

Until recently, you could buy the specialty sweets every Friday at Bite Cafe, Swim Cafe and Green Grocer, but owners Kristen Anderson and Betsy Yagunic sent out an email late last night to alert their fans that they've "gone underground for now."

On their site, it says "Donuts are available by pre-order and subscription only, with the exception of special events."

So, if you're hankering for a honey lavender-, lemon pistachio- or chocolate basil-infused donut, you might want to make a move over to one of the weekly Green City Market events . . .

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Food Network Hottie Headlines World Festival

Nigella Lawson of "Food Network" fame.

Art Smith's annual World Festival hits the holy grail with its celebrity lineup this year.

As the signature event of his nonprofit organization Common Threads, it features some of the country's most celebrated chefs, who will serve their versions of global cuisine for more than 500 guests during a walk-around tasting at Soldier Field on March 1.

Among the celeb chefs: Food Network stars Ingrid Hoffmann, Nigella Lawson and Ming Tsai as well as "Top Chef" season 4 winner Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat).

A number of local, high-profile chefs will also be in attendance, including Curtis Duffy, Avenues at the Peninsula; Graham Elliot Bowles, graham elliot; Koren Grieveson, avec; Kevin Hickey, Seasons, Four Seasons Hotel Chicago; Giuseppe Tentori, BOKA; and Matthias Merges and Della Gossett, Charlie Trotter’s.

World Festival happens 6-9pm March 1; $250 general admission, $500 for VIP (for those who want to mingle with the chefs at an after-party at the James Hotel).

Sound Opinions on Where To Wine & Dine

"Sound Opinions" co-hosts Jim DeRogatis (left) and Greg Kot. (Photo: Sound Opinions)

312DD got Chicago's ultimate rock critics—Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot of national syndicated Sound Opinions—to open up about their favorite dining spots around town.

Their comfort zone, of course, is reviewing concerts, but DeRogatis says, "We do know where to catch a great quick bite in close proximity to many of the venues we have to frequent while reviewing shows."

So when Kot hits up a major show at United Center, the classic Italian cuisine of La Luce is calling his name.

"They do a great Bolognese sauce, have a nice selection of red wines, and have ample street parking out front," says Kot. "Plus, you can avoid the over-priced options at the United Center, and have a romantic, civilized time before experiencing what is likely over-the-top arena rock spectacle."

When DeRogatis catches one of the many hot rock, pop or jazz bands playing at Aragon, Riviera or Green Mill, his go-to dining spot in the area is Silver Seafood for authentic Chinese food.

"This is an old-school joint, with garish décor, horrendous bright neon lighting and lobsters swimming in a big cloudy fish tank, a few reasons you know it’s the real deal," he says. "But the best evidence of its excellence is the fact that whenever you go, you’re invariably surrounded by loud, large families speaking rapid-fire Chinese. There are about a thousand things on the menu—not just seafood by any means—and I’ve sampled about 250 of them and loved every dish."

Though Music Box Theatre is no live-music venue, it's where the Sound Opinions duo hosts movie nights, including a special showing of "Saturday Night Fever" at 7:30pm Feb. 16.

DeRogatis recommends hitting up Argentine steak house Tango Sur before the movie: "I love meat, especially the mixed platters of grilled steak, sausage, pork and chicken. There are other fine dishes, too—gotta love the empanadas—but meat is usually involved with those, too. Viva los carnivores!"

Pub grub at The Gage. (Photo: Elizabeth Lynch)

Read on for even more delicious picks from the dynamic duo:

Agami: "Conveniently located in Uptown for shows at the Riviera, Aragon and Green Mill. Sushi connoisseurs (and I count myself among them) will appreciate this place with its premium on freshness, but the menu also includes dishes to please those who aren't sashimi lovers. And for those who aren't reviewing a show later in the evening, they serve excellent saki."—GK

The Gage: "Excellent dinner stop for those attending shows at the nearby Auditorium Theatre or Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, across the street. Good selection of draught beer, including a nice, slow-pour Guinness, and pub-food that is a bit pricey but of high quality: burgers, fish and chips, roast chicken, mussels, steaks. It’s (also) the perfect place to unwind after a full day of sun or showers at Lollapalooza."—GK

Kroll’s South Loop: "There’s a really good restaurant attached to one of my favorite new punk clubs, Reggie’s. The menu is classic American with a twist (meatloaf and pulled-pork sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, that sort of thing), and the food is served on cool metal TV dinner trays—but my favorite spot in the burgeoning South Loop dining scene is Kroll's, a bit of Wisconsin in Chicago, with an old-school wood-paneled supper club vibe and absolutely unforgettable fried cheese curds, butter burgers (that would be a big slab of prime chopped meat adorned with a slab of butter, of course) and shakes so thick you might initially mistake them for a glass of spackle, until you finally take a sip. Mmmm!"—JD

Uncommon Ground: "Although it’s just north of one of my favorite clubs (Metro), I was reluctant at first to do dinner here. I’m down with its emphasis on organic and locally farmed produce, but as a hardcore meatatarian, I’m always wary of menus heavy on the veggies. But with choice selections such as bacon-wrapped meatloaf and black pepper seared pork loin, as well as the veggie burgers and killer gourmet mac and cheese, Uncommon Ground is uber-tasty first and healthy second, as every restaurant should be."—JD

Reggie Bush Does Everything 'Epic' . . .


. . . so we have a good idea that the newly crowned Super Bowl champ and his famous girlfriend would likely wind up at Epic—River North's newest hot spot—if they were in Chicago on Valentine's Day.

Where would other glamorous celeb couples like Naomi Campbell/Vladislav Doronin, Bradley Cooper/Renee Zellweger, Beyonce/Jay-Z and Russell Brand/Katy Perry end up if they were in town?!

Take a look at's newest slideshow Celebs Supping in the Second City to find out . . .

Monday, February 8, 2010

Stage Bites: The Weekly Dining & Drinking Guide

Mariah Carey headlines Chicago Theatre Feb. 13-14.

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

A Raisin in the Sun at Merle Reskin Theatre. It's the 50th anniversary of Lorraine Hansberry's classic portrait of an African-American family on Chicago’s South Side in the 1950s. 7:30pm Wednesday-Saturday; 2pm Sunday (last show Feb. 14). Get tickets here.

Mercat a la Planxa: Brunch is served 11am-3pm at this Spanish sensation known best for award-winning Executive Chef Jose Garces. They're doing a number of sandwiches served with smoked paprika fries, including the burger and Shoko Club (smoked turkey breast, bacon, honey mustard, almonds on multigrain artisan bread). Pair it up with their version of the Mimosa: the Santa Caterina made with cava, orange liqueur and OJ.

Oysy: Feeling adventurous?! Allow the chef to make the picks for the sushi party tray for $32. Here's to hoping you'll get the signature Green Turtle maki that's topped with eel, cucumber, wasabi mayo and tempura shrimp.

Park Grill: If you're looking for a quick bite before the show, hit up $5 Thursdays for steamed Prince Edward Island mussels, mini burgers or the seasonal panini (right now it's local pumpkin, puree, arugula with truffle honey vinaigrette). Available in bar/lounge only. Bigger appetites should take advantage of the pre-theater menu for $30. Three courses gets you choices like slow roasted sage and garlic chicken, Woodland mushroom risotto or cedar-planked Atlantic salmon.

River North Chicago Dance at Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Annual Valentine's weekend engagement features two world premieres, including an unforgettable tribute to jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald. 8pm Friday, Saturday. Get tickets here.

Aria: You'll get three Asian-inspired courses for $41 (seasonal menu changes), plus special validated parking for $9.

Tavern at the Park: Take advantage of the special menu for you and a sig other that's only $40 per person for four courses. A warm duck salad, petite prime rib and brick chicken that's deboned and marinated in lemon are only some of the highlights on the Val's Day menu.

Sushi selection from Oysy's menu. (Photo: Oysy)

Mariah Carey at Chicago Theatre. Madame Butterfly herself performs two shows; Saturday's concert is sold out. 7:30pm Saturday; 7pm Sunday. Get tickets for Sunday's show here.

cibo matto: theWit's sexy Ital resto is right next door, so treat someone sweet to their Valentine's Day menu Friday through Feb. 15. For $75 each, you'll get a four-course feast, including four-cheese ravioli, grilled beef tenderloin and warm, bittersweet chocolate cake.

South Water Kitchen: Or, if you blew all your money on those Mariah Carey tix, we're certain your lover will settle for a nice bottle of vino at Hotel Monaco's first-floor eatery. They're offering an awesome list of wallet-friendly wines for $15, plus if you're going to the show on Sunday you get a comped cheese plate with that bottle.

Another Look at Foodie Yoga Phenom


I'm still tingling all over from an invigorating, weekend-long yoga workshop led by yoga psychologist Ashley Turner, who helped me get into one of the deepest practices ever.

She showed us how to approach our yoga practice by understanding Chakras, or the seven power points of our bodies. Through chanting, meditation, asanas and even dancing, we learned how to open ourselves to new and sometimes more unconventional experiences.

Which brings me back to Yoga for Foodies—the new phenomenon that freaked me out when I discovered it a few weeks ago.

I circled back with Yoga for Foodies founder David Romanelli, who says the New York Times exaggerated in its depiction of his concept during a recent workshop in New York, particularly this part:

"All had signed up for a strange new hybrid of physical activity: first an hour of vigorous, sweaty yoga, then a multicourse dinner of pasta, red wine and chocolate. As soon as the lights went up, dinner was served on the floor: an (almost) seamless transition designed to allow the yogis to taste, smell and digest in a heightened state of awareness."

Romanelli says the practice is more of a downtempo Vinyasa class—not so sweaty that the room's too funky for the feast that comes after. And while the New York participants did find themselves dining on the floor, the upcoming Chicago class takes place March 8 in Province's upscale private dining room with a cocktail reception, multi-course meal, wine and dessert.

He says his classes, which he travels across the country teaching, encourage students to "plug into the moment."

"You’re stimulated in another way, and that much more able to enjoy the food. Put down the cell phones, BlackBerries and iPhones and truly enjoy the experience."

And for those who feel that his classes are not "real" yoga, he offers, "Yoga needs to keep growing, with new and interesting concepts to attract more people. So many people are turning to yoga as full-time careers, so if we expect it to grow, we need to be more accepting of other styles."

While Province owner/chef Randy Zweiban won't be participating in the actual yoga class, he will be front and center during the second half when the food is the star.

"Since this is following a yoga class, I'm not going to stuff people," says Zweiban. "We're doing five small courses, appetizers and a blood orange cocktail.

"I really like this concept because the smaller the bites, the more challenge I have to bring big flavors into the mix."

Some of the items he's whipping up include beef tenderloin and a spicy Hawaiian tuna with citrus flavors. Class is $95; reservations required as the room only holds 12; bring your mat!

If that price is a bit steep, Romanelli's also doing a number of wine+chocolate+yoga workshops at Total Body Yoga in Mundelein. March 5-7. $40 per class.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Nightlife News You Can Use . . .

Zach Friedlander of soon-to-open Gilt. (Photo: Carlos Enrique Cuarta)

Relax Lounge has been sold, according to an Ultimate Insider, but it's more interesting to find out who's behind the sale of the West Town tavern.

Our source says it was bought by the owner behind Witt's in Lincoln Park and Jefferson Tap—the West Loop bar that became notorious in 2006 when three off-duty Chicago cops allegedly beat several patrons.

He plans to keep it open until at least mid-March when he'll shut it down to transform it into a new concept. My guess is that it'll be another neighborhood sports bar like his other projects.

Speaking of Relax, former mixologist Zach Friedlander is part of the mixology team at Gilt when it opens Feb. 16. The restaurant has been getting lots of buzz thanks to the resume of owner/chef Brendan Sodikoff (a French Laundry alum), so we're expecting their mixology program to rival the likes of The Drawing Room and The Violet Hour.

SmallBar Fullerton open its doors to the public Friday. (Photo: Urban Daddy Chicago)

Also, Alinea's hot shot chef Grant Achatz stopped by brand-new lounge The Exchange to get a lesson in "the history of gin" from mixologist Peter Vestinos on Wednesday. While there, he sampled a number of cocktails, including The Firefly (made with New Holland Knickerbocker Gin, Alpine liqueur, chartreuse, lime, egg white, bitters) and The Challenge (Tanqueray gin, Antica vermouth, cynar).

We're not sure if he tried The Exchange, a smooth sipper comprised of Death's Door vodka and a fruity new soda from Half Acre Brewery that was created by former Alinea pastry chef Mike Carroll.

SmallBar owners Ty Fujimura and Phil McFarland (who are also behind The Exchange) can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Their long-awaited SmallBar Fullerton debuts Friday night.

WhiskeyFest, going down April 23 at Hyatt Regency Chicago, features more than 200 of the world's finest, rarest and most expensive whiskies. High-end rums, tequilas, beer and other spirits will be repped as well. Get tix here.

And Karyn's on Green—the latest in Karyn Calabrese's vegan-focused empire—opened in the West Loop with an impressive list of market-fresh cocktails. She's pushing a number of classic and contemporary drinks, but also some non-alcoholic, healthy elixirs like El Gallo Bravo (pineapple syrup, fresh lime, cilantro, jalapeno, club soda), Aloe-Kombucha Cooler (Acai juice, aloe vera, fresh lemon, agave nectar, fresh basil, hibiscus Kombucha) and Clip On (coconut water, fresh lime, almond-spice syrup, flamed orange). Yum.