Thursday, July 28, 2011

First-Ever 'Liquid Chicago' Almost Here


If you didn't think you had enough boozy bashes to attend this summer, here's yet another.

Add the weeklong Liquid Chicago to the list because it'll have Whiskey Raw with the Naked Girls Reading, a pub crawl of hot dog stands and gangster hangouts, Pig + Cheese + Cocktails, and more.

Here's a rundown of exactly what to expect Aug. 9-13:

Get Exclusive 'Spirited' Dinner 50% Off

(Photo: Drew Templeton for Mercadito)

Mercadito's launching its first-ever spirited dinner series Monday, and to kick it off in style, they're generously offering four lucky 312DD readers 50 percent off the $55 price tag (excluding tax and tip) per person.

As part of the deal, you'll get four courses of their magnificent Mexican fare paired with Tres Generaciones Tequila cocktails. You'll also be led through a progressive tasting experience of the tequila. Chefs Patricio Sandoval and Aldo Ayala have also included Tres Generaciones in some of the dishes, so if you don't get a buzz by the end of the evening, you did it wrong!

To snag a reservation for the dinner, you must call the restaurant here, but in order to get the special 50 percent off 312DD deal, you MUST email me at ASAP. I've got exactly four seats at 6:30pm, so whomever gets to me first gets 'em. UPDATE: Those tickets are now gone!

If you miss out on this spirited dinner, Mercadito's doing more until the end of the year:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Props Are In Order . . .


. . . for Alex Dana of the Rosebud restaurant group, who was rewarded Wednesday with his very own honorary street sign (Photo: George Dana) for more than 30 years of business in Little Italy.

Manny's Deli owner Ken Raskin was also honored with a sign in front of his iconic, politically connected eatery in the Loop.

Congrats to both of these legendary restaurateurs. They've done so much for Chicago's bustling restaurant community!

Kyle Korver 'Misbehaved' at The Aviary

Photo via

Remember that story back in May when Grant Achatz tweeted that a Bulls player stormed out of The Aviary with his entourage after he was refused service for "vodka and seltzer water?!"

Well, Achatz never revealed his name, but an Ultimate Insider confirms to 312DD that it was guard/forward Kyle Korver.

I did some research and found out that Korver typically frequents clubby, bottle-service spots like Studio Paris and Underground, so it sounds like a case of a guy totally out of his element . . .

Melt Sandwich Shop Opens Soon in Bucktown


Just got word that Porkchop's Dion Antic signed a lease late Wednesday afternoon for his latest project: a gourmet grilled cheese concept called Melt Sandwich Shop.

The space used to be home to soup-focused Nalyah's Café, and he plans to trick it out to resemble a "schoolhouse study" with communal tables. That's perhaps due to the fact that he's counting on a large crowd of moms and kids to frequent the spot after classes.

Ikram's 'Red Box' Cafe Open Now

Exterior of the new Ikram via

When it comes to high-end shopping, Ikram easily rolls with the big boys like Gucci, Hermes and Jimmy Choo, so building an upper-level cafe would be an added incentive.

So I'm salivating at the news that the tiny eatery—which offers a chic, red interior—opens today to the public. I'm also hearing that a former avec chef designed the menu at The Red Box.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July 30 is 'National Cheesecake Day!'


Saturday is National Cheesecake Day, but Eli's Cheesecake World and Cafe is kicking it in high gear a couple days early with an annual festival in the parking lot.

Get there 8am-6pm Thursday and you'll be rewarded with a complimentary slice if you bring a non-perishable food item for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. You can also get half off on a frozen cheesecake if you buy one through Sunday.

Additional festivities happening that day:

Free BBQ For Everyone at Lillie's Q!

(Photo: Lillie's Q)

Bucktown BBQ joint Lillie's Q must have had one helluva first year because owner/chef Charlie McKenna's decided to give away free smoked whole hogs during his anniversary party on August 1.

We suggest showing up before 9pm, when the festivities officially begin, in order to snag prime spots in the dining room or at the bar. Then you won't have to elbow for space when McKenna starts passing out all the different cuts of his signature, award-winning 30-pound smoked whole hogs. That's right, you'll be treated to tenderloin, pulled shoulder, ham, belly, pulled shoulder and even the bark.

And there's more:

A Sno-Cone Cocktail You Cannot Deny

The Manhattan "Sno-Kone" at Porkchop via Urban Daddy Chicago

Urban Daddy Chicago found the perfect way to beat the heat, and we're totally onboard.

They've uncovered the Manhattan "Sno-Kone" at Porkchop, which they describe like this:

"After combining a 90-proof Kentucky whiskey—slightly stronger than your average bourbon—with vermouth, then shaking it all violently, your barman pours the resulting mix on top of that shaved ice. And very important: maraschino cherry juice is added. Crunching your way into the first bite, you’ll feel a chill run down your spine. Your body temp drops. Go with it. All according to the plan."


Monday, July 25, 2011

Another Pastry Chef Hits The Airwaves!

Pastry Chef Sarah Levy (Photo via

We were excited to hear about The Bristol's dynamite executive pastry chef Amanda Rockman competing on Bravo's second season of Top Chef Just Desserts, premiering August 24.

But another big name in all things sweet may just steal a little of her thunder. Sarah Levy of Sarah's Pastries and Candies is appearing on the mega-competitive Food Network Challenge a few days before on August 21.

Justin White: 'Food To Rival Anyone's'

The Drawing Room's Executive Chef Nick Lacasse (left) with SmallBar's Executive Chef Justin White. (Photo: Julie Szmyd)

That's quite a declaration coming from Nick Lacasse on the chef he believes is the one to watch next.

Lacasse's the executive chef at The Drawing Room, and he recently issued an ingredient challenge to SmallBar Wicker Park's Justin White to do something creative with an ostrich egg.

The challenge is part of an ongoing video series by the Chicago Reader in which a prominent chef gets another chef to create an entree with a rarely used ingredient.

What Everyone's Talking About in July

Roka Akor's signature sushi platter. (Photo: Roka Akor)

The weather may have cooled off just a wee bit, but that's not stopping the red-hot openings in July.

In's monthly GRUB GUIDE To What's Hot . . ., we highlighted some of the spots everyone's been buzzing about, including the modern Indian-focused Bombay Spice, Pilsen's chef-driven EL, and steak and sushi sensation Roka Akor.

There's never a dull moment!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Even More Props For The Bristol!

Debbi Peek is the head mixologist at The Bristol. (Photo: The Bristol)

So The Bristol's been on fire lately.

Last week we found out that Executive Pastry Chef Amanda Rockman is set to compete on the second season of Top Chef Desserts.

And over the weekend down at the annual Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, head mixologist Debbi Peek racked up a new honor of her own.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One Big Week For Local Pastry Chefs!

The Bristol's Pastry Chef Amanda Rockman. (Photo: Amanda Rockman)

It's great to see pastry chefs finally getting a sweet taste of success in the city.

First, The Bristol's Amanda Rockman is set to be on the second season of Top Chef: Just Desserts. It premieres August 24 on Bravo, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Also, Eater Chicago reports that Stephanie Prida's leaving the two-starred ria for three-starred L20.

We're #1 When It Comes To Hot Dog Stands

Hot Doug's photo via Complex

It's good to know that if you're craving pizza, hot dogs, burgers or tacos, there's no shortage of spots around town. broke down the stats on how Chicago ranks with other major cities in a recent survey. By the way, we're #1 when it comes to hot dog stands!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Paella Chef Showdown at Mercat a la Planxa!

Mercat's Chef de Cuisine Cory Morris and Blackstone Hotel Executive Chef Eric Liebtag. (Photos: Mercat a la Planxa)

I don't think I can contain myself.

First we found out about the Quick Fire Competition Series with star chefs from Perennial Virant (Paul Virant) and The Bristol (Chris Pandel) going head to head with barbecue.

And today comes word that two more local chefs are going at it. This time it's with paella, and it's going down at 6pm August 25 at Mercat a la Planxa.

Cheers! Today Is National Daiquiri Day . . .

A picture perfect Daiquiri via

It's been rumored that the Daiquiri originated in the small town of Daiquiri on the east coast of Cuba.

Oak Park native Ernest Hemingway brought the cocktail to infamy during his travels there in the 1930s, and on some classic menus you'll even find the Hemingway Daiquiri. It's made of White Rum, Lime, Grapefruit, Maraschino Liqueur and Cane Syrup.

Most spots around town serve the frozen variety, but there are a few establishments serving the Daiquiri in the classic tradition. And as July 19 is observed as National Daiquiri Day, here's where to go to celebrate:

Monday, July 18, 2011

St. Louis Bar Stars Take Over Drawing Room

TJ Vytlacil of St. Louis' Blood and Sand will guest bartend at The Drawing Room this weekend. (Photo: Blood and Sand)

Damn near every mixologist from Chicago is heading out this week for Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Think of it as a weeklong blowout bash for bartenders, but they're also learning tricks of the trade while they're there.

But what does that mean for us cocktail enthusiasts who are left behind?! Do we have to (gasp!) figure out how to make our own drinks or settle for wine and beer until they're back?

The Drawing Room is at least one cocktail lounge that's considered its fans before allowing master mixologist Charles Joly and his super staff to take off for the Big Easy.

Joly is letting a crew of guys from St. Louis take over in his absence. TJ Vytlacil and Adam Frager from the forthcoming Blood and Sand as well as Chad George from Demun Oyster Bar have created a delicious drink list.

"We're lucky to have great Midwest representatives take the helm for the weekend!" says Joly, who was confident leaving the award-winning cocktail lounge in their hands.

I think I will be all over Love Burns, which sounds like a good balance between bitter and sweet with Don Q Anejo, raw simple syrup, the after-dinner digestif Barolo Chinato and grapefruit bitters from the Bitter Truth.

Here's what else to expect:

Head-To-Head BBQ Contest of Top Chefs

Paul Virant (left) and Chris Pandel. (Photos: Boka Restaurant Group)

This is something you'd better act fast on because it'll sell out quick!

Perennial Virant' Paul Virant and Chris Pandel of The Bristol (and Balena) are set for a BBQ challenge to end all BBQ challenges.

If you act quickly, you'll be part of the crowd that gets to pick the winner between these two culinary stars. From 6-7pm July 25 at Perennial, 100 guests will get to hang out on the patio and watch the competitors as they grill three products: an "unknown" protein provided by Dietzler Farms, as well as two additional items. From these ingredients, each chef must create/execute an impromptu recipe and tasting portions for the crowd.

The event also includes a complimentary cocktail made by mixologist Matty Eggleston. Get the free tickets by calling the restaurant.

What Is The Foodarazzi?!

Photo of Amanda Puck via The Foodarazzi

Local cool girl about town Amanda Puck launched a food-oriented blog officially last Friday where she stalks some of the juiciest bites in the city.

The Foodarazzi actually comes as no surprise (and what took her so effing long?!) because Amanda was the original host of the award-winning restaurant review show, Check, Please!

She's also been known for quite awhile to post some pretty enticing photos of her foodie adventures on Facebook. It doesn't matter if it's at a friend's house for a laid-back BBQ or a 22-course feast at the Four Seasons, if she likes the food, she's gonna take photos.

It's 'Hot Dog Week' at Bull & Bear . . .


So this is odd.

You've gotta make reservations for hot dogs at Bull & Bear.

The River North sports lounge is doing its second-annual Hot Dog Week (it's also National Hot Dog Month), so they're doing a different one each day today through Friday.

Here's what to expect:

Friday, July 15, 2011

New Underground Party Delivers On Fun

The Chicago Cabaret Project's "The Soiree Series" is an underground live performance/party taking place in fabulous Chicago homes. (Photos: Chicago Cabaret Project)

It's no secret that I've been complaining about the lack of creativity on Chicago's nightlife scene for awhile. Same old, same old, give us something new!

So I was pretty excited when I got an invitation to attend The Chicago Cabaret Project's first-ever The Soiree Series on Thursday.

They had me at cabaret, but what truly intrigued me to make an appearance was the underground aspect of the event. The group's founder/artistic director Kyle Hustedt's vision of The Soiree Series is to bring an authentic cabaret experience to some of the most fabulous homes in Chicago.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

'Green City Market Chef's BBQ' Cocktails Revealed!

All the specialty cocktails that will be served at the annual "Green City Market Chef's BBQ." (Photo: Wirtz Beverage Illinois)

The restaurant lineup for the annual Green City Market Chef's BBQ is stellar as always, so I'm a bit surprised that it hasn't sold out yet.

It happens 5:30-8pm July 21, and to get you salivating, they've added a new site detailing all the cocktails you'll be drinking. This collection of eco-friendly sippers includes local produce and spirits that were created by some of the city's top bar stars.

Ox Diner Opening Delayed

Photo via Flickr

Brendan Sodikoff, who's behind Gilt Bar and Maude's Liquor Bar, is putting plans on hold to open Ox Diner this summer.

The "gastro" diner was set to open in an industrial warehouse in the West Loop, but Sodikoff tells 312DD exclusively that he's "had some schedule changes due to lease issues, etc."

He adds that he's working on opening Bavette's Bar & Boeuf now before the diner. No word on where it'll be yet.

UPDATE: Here's more info about the new spot.

Moto Chefs Rumored To Be On 'Top Chef'


This curious message appeared in the 312DD inbox Wednesday from an Ultimate Insider:

"I live behind Moto... the 2 sous chefs are nowhere to be found. Both tried out for Top Chef. Not back."

The show is currently filming in Texas, according to Eater National. It'll be interesting to see if this turns out to be true . . .

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Curtis Duffy To Leave Avenues For New Venture

Curtis Duffy, chef de cuisine at Avenues at the Peninsula. (Photo: Peninsula Chicago)

Avenues' award-winning chef Curtis Duffy officially announced through the Chicago Tribune his departure Wednesday from the restaurant that made him a star, but this was a move he had been planning for several months.

According to the story, Duffy's leaving the Peninsula's two-star Michelin restaurant in September to open his own restaurant in the West Loop. He's aiming to open the unnamed venture in winter 2012. What he didn't tell them is that he's also planning to take the majority of his kitchen staff with him—which comes as no surprise to those in the industry.

"It's fairly common for a kitchen team to go with or move after the chef leaves at a restaurant of this caliber," says Joe Campagna, a former general manager at graham elliot.

The West Loop buildout of Duffy's new space. (Photo: Curtis Duffy)

Though he hasn't disclosed the West Loop location yet, Duffy sent 312DD photos of the buildout a few weeks ago. As you can see from the photo above, the space is extremely raw, but he's planning to build a multi-level restaurant featuring a swanky lounge, spacious dining room and private dining area. He's also thinking about adding parking underneath, but admits that might be challenging.

We'll be watching this project as it evolves . . .

'Meet The Market' At The Bristol

The Bristol's culinary/cocktail stars Amanda Rockman (left) and Debbi Peek (Photos: The Bristol)

The girls rule this one!

Green City Market Junior Board's monthly Meet The Market cocktail party happens at The Bristol this time around, and guests will be treated to the delights of pastry chef Amanda Rockman and mixologist Debbi Peek.

For the reception happening on the upper level 6-8pm Thursday, they've crafted food and drink menus using Hillside Orchards fruits and Death's Door spirits. By the way, Hillside's farmer Paul Thelen will be there to meet attendees.

Desserts are comped, but drinks are $11 and benefit Green City Market. Here's what to expect:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Great News For Bar DeVille Bartender!

(Photo of Brad Bolt courtesy of his Facebook page)

Big props go out to Brad Bolt of Bar DeVille for making it to the finals of the annual GQ Magazine Bombay Sapphire Most Inspired Bartender contest.

He placed first in a Chicago contest Monday at Benchmark, and now he'll go on to compete against a number of worthy national contenders in Las Vegas in September.

Wine-Focused Events You Don't Wanna Miss!


This is like the summer of the best dining deals ever.

Of course, absolutely no one can beat that unbelievable 70th anniversary special at Gene & Georgetti.

But Capital Grille comes pretty damn close with its first-ever Generous Pour Wine Event, running today through Sept. 4.

Here's the deal: The national chain's Master Sommelier George Miliotes tasted 100 global wines a week to narrow down the selection to nine perfect picks. And beginning today, guests can drink as much of these generous pours as they like for $25. The vinos come from Australia, California, France, Italy and Spain, with tasty varietals of sparkling wine, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir and port.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Put Eco-Friendly Prasino On Your Radar

Here's your first look at a rendering of the third location for Prasino in Wicker Park. (Photo: Prasino)

Look for "eco-chic concept" Prasino to open in August in the Wicker Park 'hood.

This is the third location (the first opened in LaGrange in 2010 and second in St. Charles) for the popular restaurant that's rooted in seasonal, local and fresh ingredients. Even the drinks menu highlights small producers of wine, beer and spirits.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Club Snub For Top Comedian Turns Ugly


The last thing you want to do is piss off a comedian because it might turn into material gold for their next act.

Rockit Ranch Productions' head honcho Billy Dec found himself the target of rising star stand-up comedian/television writer Hannibal Buress—who's originally from Chicago—after a run-in Friday at his River North nightclub Underground.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Incredibly Cool Spots To Check Out

Frontier's 2,500-square-foot beer garden is one of the newest hot spots to hit up in West Town. (Photo: Frontier)

Food trucks and Fido?! That's the theme behind Truckin' Thursdays, a new event at Ethyl's Beer & Wine Dive in the West Loop.

A number of the city's most popular food trucks gather in the parking lot, and one also offers gourmet goodies for your pooch. Fido To Go is doing hand-crafted canine cookies & doggy ice creams. Other trucks include the likes of Taquero Fusion, Gaztro-Wagon, Tamale Spaceship, Slide Ride, 5411 Empanadas, More Cupcakes and Alexander Beetle Bakeshop. It's 6-9pm.

Additional fantastic food-focused events you don't want to miss:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Margarita Madness All Over Town!


There's no denying that the margarita rules when it comes to summertime sippers.

It doesn't matter whether it's fancy schmancy, skinny or shockingly big, if you tell you friends you're going out for margaritas when it's hot outside, they are certain to show up.

Over at Taco Joint and sister resto Zocalo, they've created the Guava Chipotle Margarita, with $2 of every $10 cocktail benefiting the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Illinois. It's made with Karma tequila blanco, triple sec, fresh lime juice and guava-chipotle puree with a sugar-chipotle rim. It can be ordered up, on the rocks or frozen.

Also happening at Zocalo is a margarita-making class. Taking place 6:30-9pm July 21, the class will be led by in-house beverage director Victor Baheza, who'll show attendees how to make the Guava Chipotle Margarita as well as additional flavored margaritas. He'll also offer guests an informal tequila tasting and appetizers. It's $20 to attend and to reserve a spot, call the restaurant here. Fifty percent of the proceeds also benefit Make-A-Wish.

Salsa Your Way to a Free Supper

Photo via Ya Salsa.

If you think you've got what it takes when it comes to salsa, prove your moves on the dance floor for a chance to win dinner for four and more at Nacional 27.

The vibrant, Latin-inspired resto in River North is doing its annual Bacardi Sultry Summer Salsa Competition preliminaries over the next few weeks. Register by contacting the restaurant here; dates to dance are 9:30pm July 29, August 5 and August 12 (finals take place August 26). Applicants who register before July 15 will receive a $25 gift certificate to Nacional 27.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hot Doug's Is #1 . . .

Hot Doug's photo via Complex

This comes as no surprise.

Doug Sohn and his enticing encased meats at Hot Doug's nag the #1 spot in Complex's 25 Best Hot Dog Shops in America roundup:

"Hot Doug's sits on top as the best hot dog shop in America because they can do it both ways. That is to say, they have arguably one of the best Chicago dogs out there for a startling $1.75 (unless you're a stickler for the two tomatoes, two sports rule) and they run a special menu of gourmet sausages that sets the bar for extravagant and creative across the nation. The specials are food porn . ..."

Go, Ryan, Go!

Ryan Poli of Tavernita. (Photo: Ryan Poli)

Let's root on Chicago homeboy Ryan Poli, chef/partner at Tavernita, who's competing Wednesday on Bravo TV's Rocco's Dinner Party.

You might remember when I first told you about the show back in March. This is the fourth episode of the cooking contest in which competitors each week whip up dinner and a party atmosphere to impress Rocco DiSpirito and his celebrity guests. On Ryan's episode, which includes actor Chazz Palminteri and comic Jeffrey Ross, the challenge is to create a "flavorful, yet healthy feast fest."

Monday, July 4, 2011

If Chicago Was A Cake . . .

(Photo: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Gold Coast)

TLC's Cake Boss Buddy Valastro was in town last week to help kick off a major grand-opening event at the Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Gold Coast (834 N. Rush St.).

More than 500 guests were in attendance, including media elite and Bears players (including legendary NFLer Otis Wilson). But the real star of the soirée was the magnificent cake Valastro created for the spectacular event.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Charles Joly Wins AGAIN!


If you were looking to check out The Drawing Room star mixologist Charles Joly for cocktails this week, he's been out of the loop for a very good reason.

Joly's been in Mexico City competing in the second-annual Olmeca Altos Global Margarita Contest with the Tahona Society. He was up against the best in the biz from all over the world, including London, South Africa, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and Mexico.

He beat them all Friday night to win a trip to London.

Congrats, Charles!