Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Here Comes Fall's Biggest Foodie Fests

Blackbird's Paul Kahan (from left), "Top Chef" winner Richard Blais and Perennial's Paul Virant are set to appear at Chipotle's first-ever "Cultivate Chicago" event in October.

If you thought summer's chef scene was busy, just wait until we roll into fall. Holy Smokes will it be a busy one as event after exciting event happens with some of the biggest names in the biz.

Green Tie Ball returns after taking a year off in 2010. The theme is A Return To Emerald City, and organizers have secured more than 40 restaurants and four food trucks to serve up signature bites. Just a taste of the talent: The Drawing Room, Four Seasons, Jam and Owen & Engine. 6:30-8:30pm (VIP); 8:30pm-1am (GENERAL ADMISSION) Sept. 17. $125-$250. Get tickets here. A. Finkl & Sons (2011 N. Southport Ave.).

Local and national culinary stars will be everywhere you look at Chicago Gourmet, happening at Millennium Park Sept. 23-25. In addition to daylong chef demos, wine and food tastings, seminars and competitions, there is the second-annual Hamburger Hop, taking place Sept. 23. That's when a number of local restaurants compete to find out who offers the best burger in town (last year's winner was NoMi's Ryan LaRoche, who's a judge this time around). You can also score a free day pass for Chicago Gourmet by participating in the Dine Around program. Buy tickets to Chicago Gourmet here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hot on the Radar NOW . . .

Union Sushi + Barbeque's ritzy Up Bar lounge. (Photo: Union Sushi + Barbeque)

Cocktailing, a little couture and River North's newest burger bar are on my mind this week:

Californian Tim Goodell was named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine in 2000, and now he's making his mark in Chicago with a burger concept. 25 Degrees boasts a number of signature sandwiches and boozy sippers. We're especially excited about the decadent-sounding #2, which comes with roasted tomato, crispy prosciutto, burrata and pesto. Um, yum. You also have the option of "crafting" your own burger from a selection of meat, cheeses and sauces. Also looking forward to sampling the Salty Caramel "spiked" milkshake with Bulleit bourbon, butterscotch, vanilla bean ice cream and Hawaiian red sea salt.

Chicago q fetes its first year with its very own private label bourbon. q Bourbon is distilled by Evan Williams and single-barrel aged for 10 years. You'll be able to get it in $2 pours, served on a silver tray, neat, accompanied by a rocks glass with a house-made 1.25-inch ice cube and an eye-dropper filled with distilled water. The special bourbon will also be used in a refreshing Ginger Fizz for $5. It's available Sept. 4-10.

More than 40 of Chicago's most influential women will walk the runway during a fashion show at the Palm Court at The Drake. If you want to know what you should be wearing this fall, you'll want to be here. Fashions from Bloomingdale’s, Mark Shale, L.K.Bennett, Karen Millen, Club Monaco and more. VIP ($50) and general admission ($25) tickets are available here. 6-8pm Thursday.

Monday, August 29, 2011

It’s Time For Another Female ‘Top Chef’

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

If you combine all the Top Chef franchises—Top Chef, Top Chef Masters, Top Chef Just Desserts and Top Chef All-Stars—that's almost totaling 15 seasons of the popular culinary competition.

But all those seasons have managed to result in only one female Top Chef winner, which, of course, is Girl & The Goat's Stephanie Izard.

That's just crazy!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Another Chef Showdown Coming Soon!


Yet another chef competition is coming, this time benefiting the Special Olympics.

A number of the downtown area's culinary kings and queens are set to go head to head in the fourth annual Chefs on the Grill event at the Plaza on the Grill from 6-9pm Sept. 14. Each chef will whip up a signature dish, then guests vote on their favorites. The winning chef gets bragging rights to the Chefs on the Grill trophy until next year's event.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Vote For Me, The 312DD!!


Sooooo honored to be nominated as a finalist for CBS Chicago's Most Valuable Blogger Awards 2011 in the dining/entertainment category.

To vote for 312DD, please go here.

Thanks so much in advance!

The Most Annoying Part of 'Top Chef Just Desserts' Premiere

Amanda Rockman of The Bristol. (Photo: Stronghold Photography)

Excuse me for the early rant, but I'm a little miffed about Wednesday's premiere of Top Chef Just Desserts.

Of course it's partly due to the fact that we haven't had a Chicago girl chef on the popular Bravo franchise since Girl & The Goat's Stephanie Izard won in Top Chef season four.

But it mostly has to do with how the only Chicago contestant, The Bristol's Amanda Rockman, was introduced to viewers during this premiere.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How Many Bloodys Can YOU Put Down?!

Morso's $30 all-you-can-drink brunch deal includes a signature Bloody Mary. (Photo: jamco new media)

I know how much everyone loves to indulge in brunch during spring/summer, but have you seen the menus at this fall's hottest new restaurants?!

From foie gras "Pop Tarts" at 2Sparrows to Morso's $30 all-you-can-drink deal of Mimosas, Bloodys and the signature Choo Choo Cable Car, I check out what's certain to be the season's best brunches in the monthly GRUB GUIDE To What's Hot in

Latest Obsession: The Robata Grill

Roka Akor's steak made over the robata grill. (Photo: Roka Akor)

This year, four new restaurants popped up on the Chicago scene focusing on the robata grill—a traditional style of barbecuing that's been used in Japan for hundreds of years.

But what sets some of these spots apart from others is that few feature the binchotan Japanese white charcoal, which is only used on authentic robata grills. Others put prime slices of meats, seafood and veggies on specially made gas grills.

Want to know more about the robata grill trend and what sets it apart from what we've been used to as far as barbecue?! I checked out these new spots on The U's You & Me This Morning.

You'll certainly be hungry after you watch!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Vote For The Southern Mac & Cheese Truck!

(Photo: The Southern)

The Great Food Truck Race is currently in its second season on Food Network, but producers are already looking for participants for the third season.

No one's more excited about that news in Chicago than The Southern's chef Cary Taylor and owner James Lasky, who just might get a chance to compete.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Who's Hot This Fall . . .

Ryan Poli of Tavernita. (Photo: Tavernita)

GrubStreet Chicago's getting us ready for fall with this sweet slideshow preview of the city's most anticipated restaurant openings, including the likes of BAR TOMA, Balena and Tavernita.

The best part of this story? Interviews with several high-profile chefs on why they think these restaurants will succeed.

Great to see these guys supporting each other!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Exclusive Sneak Preview of Morso Lounge

Matthew "Choo" Lipsky behind the bar at the sleek, upper-level Morso Lounge. (Photos: jamco new media)

When I got a last-minute invite to be the first person to check out Matt Maroni's highly anticipated Morso's upstairs lounge for Saturday night, hell yeah I said yes.

I didn't know what to expect from the guy known as the poster boy for Chicago's food truck movement and the owner of Gaztro-wagon, which cranks out delicious street food sandwiches and such almost daily.

I guess I expected an extension of Gaztro-wagon—which was what we got—yet delivered with far more sophistication than could be done on a mobile vehicle. The cuisine and cocktails have phenomenal potential.

Morso's mixologist is Matthew "Choo" Lipsky, formerly of The Southern. What Choo loves about this opportunity is that he's allowed to go absolutely crazy behind the bar, allowing him to create concoctions behind his wildest dreams by using ingredients and spirits typically overlooked by other bartenders.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mercadito Chef's Encounter With JHud


On his flight from Chicago to NYC Thursday, Mercadito chef/partner Patricio Sandoval snagged a first-class seat next to newly svelte star Jennifer Hudson.

He admitted that he was a tad bit star struck, but not so much that he didn't pay attention to her eating "habits:"

Best Customer Service Story EVER.

Peter Shankman (left) with tuxedoed server from Morton's Hackensack. (Photo: Peter Shankman)

I guess you can say there are benefits to having more than 100,000 Twitter followers. And it certainly helps if you're also a whiz when it comes to social media networking.

New York consultant Peter Shankman—who tweets @petershankman—received one of the best receptions ever Wednesday night when he arrived at Newark Airport to find a Morton's Steakhouse server waiting for him with a bag filled with "a 24 oz. Porterhouse steak, an order of Colossal Shrimp, a side of potatoes, one of Morton's famous round things of bread, two napkins and silverware."

How did this happen?!

Can He Bounce Back?!

Chef James Toland of The Black Sheep. (Photo: Lorenzo Tassone)

The troubles plaguing the The Black Sheep have been well documented by Eater Chicago.

The West Town restaurant has only been open for about a couple of months, but it quickly became known more for its drama behind the scenes than for the food. THAT is not a good thing.

But James Toland, chef/owner of TBS, insisted in a recent interview with Chicago magazine's Dish that all is good on the homefront:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

'Top Chef' Star 'Hosts' Italian 'Movie Night'

"Top Chef" fan favorite Fabio Viviani created the gourmet popcorn recipes for an Italian "movie night" in Chicago. (Photo: Courtesy of Antonio Busiello)

You'd better act fast if you want tickets to this free event featuring goodies by Top Chef "fan favorite" Fabio Viviani.

The affable Italian-born culinary star won't actually be in the house for Prosecco & Popcorn at the Music Box at 6:15pm August 30, but his recipes will. (Apparently, he'll only be making an appearance at a similar event in Miami on August 25.)

Common Threads' First-Ever Cook-Off


When Common Threads throws a cookout, you know it's going to be anything but ordinary.

Co-founded by Table Fifty-Two's Art Smith, the kiddie culinary-oriented nonprofit has gathered some of the city's best chefs and mixologists for this first-ever event.

The benefit happens 6:30-9:30pm Sept. 15 at Fulton's on the River, with participating chefs creating and serving their favorite cookout-themed dishes in one of four categories: in a glass, on a bun, in a shell or on a stick. Guests are encouraged to sample each dish and vote on their favorite in each category for the chefs to win prizes.

Here's who will be on deck:

The 8 Dumbest Restaurant Laws

Photo via

Zagat managed to dig up the 8 stupidest statutes for restaurants across the country, including no buying drinks for female bartenders (Hello, Maryland!), you can’t be drunk in a bar (Thanks, Texas!) and beer and pretzels can’t mix (WTF, North Dakota?!).

Somehow, however, Chicago got overlooked as food truck operators continue their battle against the ban on mobile restaurants cooking food on board. And now that some local legislators and restaurant advocates are attempting to limit the vehicles to operating in "food deserts" only (banning them from serving the downtown area), matters could get worse.

If that's not dumb, then I don't know what is . . .

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wilco Star Lunches at DMK Burger Bar

Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy (center) with fans at DMK Burger Bar. (Photo: DMK Burger Bar)

Staffers at DMK Burger Bar in Lakeview had an exciting Tuesday afternoon when Wilco's lead singer, Jeff Tweedy, stopped by during lunchtime.

Sources tell us that he ordered the #10 (tuckey with smoked Swiss cheese, tomato, arugula and dijonnaise) and an iced tea.

So Many, Many Foodie Happenings . . .

MJSH Chicago's Bone-In Prime Ribeye Steak. (Photo: Michael Jordan's Steak House)

You'd think that since summer's winding down, the food-focused events would too, right?!

Not a chance.

First off, former Branch 27 Executive Chef John Manion is hosting a two-day pop-up Brazilian dinner in the Warehouse District August 26-27. Eater Chicago's got all the details, which includes a multi-course meal paired with cocktails and wine. Manion's also gotten the legendary Frank Orrall (Poi Dog Pondering, Thievery Corporation) to deejay for the event.

Jeremy Piven Outed As 'Worst' Celeb Tipper


Chicago-area native Jeremy Piven, who stars on HBO's Entourage, made Miami New Times' Top 10 List of Worst Celebrity Tippers:

"According to Zimbio, (he) showed up at Nobu in Aspen with a party of 12, without a reservation. After being seated and served, Piven reportedly told the manager 'Thanks for nothing,' and left a signed Entourage DVD as the tip -- which is at least a bit more generous than an autograph. According to the story, a Nobu employee hurled the box at Piven as he was leaving, and Piven was banned from ever returning to Nobu. Sounds like something Ari Gold, his Entourage character might do. The act earned Piven the number one 'worst tipper' on zimbio's list of ten worst tippers, number two on, and at or near the top on most others. We'd have placed him higher, but he doesn't make as much money as most folks on this list, and it's just one incident."

Yikes. That's worse than anything Scottie "No Tippin'" Pippen's been accused of ever doing, but I'm still shocked he's not on the list as well . . .

Get VIP Seats For 'Air & Water Show'

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels will rock the 53rd annual "Chicago Air & Water Show" this weekend.

Here's the thing.

You don't have a friend with a boat or a crib (with a rooftop!) that's close enough to check out the Air & Water Show. So the next best plan is to head over to a number of spots near the lakefront.

In 2010, the Signature Room, for the first time ever, opened its doors for a special party for guests to have the best seats to the action.

While those wishing to see the show from the Hancock Observatory had to wait for hours to get to the top, party-goers were whisked right to their destination within minutes. It was such a success that they're doing it again this year and the event includes a sweet and savory buffet of goodies created by Executive Chef Patrick Sheerin, open bar and of course premium seating.

The Signature Room's event doesn't come cheap at $130 per person, and reservations are highly recommended by calling the restaurant. 11am-4pm Saturday and Sunday.

Additional events going down this weekend for the Air & Water Show:

Monday, August 15, 2011

Yum. Gimme Some Rum!

Mount Gay Rum Punch. (Photo: Mount Gay Rum)

Get excited.

August 16 is National Rum Day.

Yeah, mon. The first thought that came into my mind when I found out about this momentous occasion is to get to Ja'Grill in Lincoln Park ASAP.

The Ja' Rum Punch is a potent concoction that's made of Appleton white rum, Myer's dark rum, Malibu coconut rum and tropical juices.

Tuesday nights are also popular with a young professional neighborhood crowd that comes out for deejay entertainment in the lower-level lounge. We just need to warn you: Limit yourself to two glasses of Ja' Rum Punch because you might not wake up in time for work on Wednesday!

More cocktails to indulge on National Rum Day:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lynn House Shakes Up Cocktails at Celeb Wedding

Sherri Shepherd (left) and Lynn House.

If you stopped by Blackbird over the weekend, then you couldn't help but notice that their master mixologist Lynn House was missing in action.

The drinks dynamo got a rare Saturday night off to serve as the celebrity mixologist for The View's Sherri Shepherd's wedding reception at the Fairmont Hotel (The last time she got a night off like this it was for Oprah's all-star wrap party).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Taste of Chicago's Food Truck Scene

Nida Rodriguez posing inside the Slide Ride. (Photo: Slide Ride)

It seems like every time we turn around, a new ride's jumping aboard the food truck trend.

This week alone, Lettuce Entertain You's Wow Bao announced the forthcoming Buns on the Run, and look around this weekend (and next week) for Macy's Culinary Council's A-Go-Go mobile vehicle with super chefs Rick Bayless and Takashi Yagihashi passing out signature bites.

But how did it all begin, and where can you get delicious, on-the-go gourmet grub, including naan-wiches, tamales, meatball sandwiches, empanadas and mac 'n' cheese, every day?

The Worst Dining Stories You'll Ever Hear

(Photo: Zagat)

No one's perfect.

There are bad servers, and there are certainly customers who behave badly like the infamous two-cent tipper.

But never, ever, ever, ever in my years of dining did I think I'd ever come across a story like this:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Who's Got The Skills?!


With oysters so freaking popular right now, Frontier in Noble Square couldn't help but throw a big bash on National Oyster Day, on August 14.

And in addition to offering a number of specials (dozen oysters for $12; $10 oyster Po'Boys; $6 char-grilled oysters), they're hosting a contest to find out once and for all which restaurant employs the best oyster shucker in town.

Don't *&^%$#@#$%^ with Graham Elliot!

(Photo: Graham Elliot)

Uh, oh.

A Syracuse, N.Y., chef got into an online fight with Graham Elliot. What was he thinking?!

Here's how GE laid the smackdown on that a**.

Veerasway Temporarily Closed For 'Reconcept'

(Photo: Veerasway)

Apparently there's no need to worry if you recently passed by Veerasway and wondered why it was dark.

An Ultimate Insider tells 312DD that the Indian-focused resto in the West Loop is temporarily shuttered because it's reconcepting.

UPDATE: Looks like that spot will be joining the burger trend, according to Eater Chicago.

Chefs Unite For Epic Seafood Supper at L2O

L2O's main dining room. (Photo: L2O)

So, here's your ultimate seafood-focused dinner of the summer.

L2O teams up with Supreme Lobster for a Hawaiian-themed dinner prepared by some of the city's culinary stars.

The resto's top toques Francis Brennan and Matthew Kirkley, plus pastry chef Stephanie Prida, whip up a multi-course meal with Curtis Duffy (Avenues), Todd Stein (Florentine), Paul Virant (Perennial Virant, Vie) and Andrew Zimmerman (Sepia) to benefit the Hawaii Seafood Council.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Wow Bao Announces Fourth Location, Food Truck

Teriyaki chicken-stuffed bao from Wow Bao. (Photo: Wow Bao)

It's about time Lettuce Entertain You threw its hat in the food truck ring.

Just got word that we should expect the Buns on the Run mobile vehicle out on the streets within the next few weeks or so—courtesy of Wow Bao. It'll be pushing the pillowy, savory bites known as "baos" in flavors like teriyaki chicken, spicy Mongolian beef, spicy Kung Pao chicken and BBQ pork.

Free Cookies For Everyone at Mrs. Fields

(Photo: Mrs. Fields)

Get that sweet tooth ready . . .

This Loop location for Mrs. Fields is unveiling a new look and concept Thursday, and to celebrate they're giving away free cookies and lattes. This particular Chicago store is the first in the country to undergo the new design that's contemporary and feels more like a cozy coffeehouse than cookie store.

Duchamp's Viking-Themed Punch Party

Photo via flickr.

This sounds like a really cool event, but will folks actually get in the spirit and participate?!

Duchamp's main mixologist Kris Von Dopek is throwing one helluva retro bash on the patio this weekend. He's partnering with Reyka Vodka for a punch party with a Viking theme. Whether we'll see a bunch of golden-haired Thor wannabes remains to be seen, but revelers are strongly encouraged to dress up in "their favorite Viking garb."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Free Grub From Celeb Chef Food Truck!

Chef Rick Bayless (left) and Takashi Yagihashi

It was only a matter of time before Macy's Culinary Council launched a food truck, seeing how everyone else is doing it.

The iconic retail chain's first-ever mobile operation, A-Go-Go, has been traveling the country all summer, and is set to make two stops in Chicago next week with two celeb chefs guaranteed to draw massive crowds.

Takashi Yagihashi (Takashi) and Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill/Topolobampo/Xoco) will be passing out complimentary samples of their signature gourmet dishes.

Where They Eat in Chicago . . .

"The Ants" performing at Cirque du Soleil's production of "OVO" at the United Center. (Photo: Cirque du Soleil)

Insects typically skeeve me out, but Cirque du Soleil manages to make them look fun and sexy in its latest production going on now under the blue-and-yellow Grand Chapiteau at United Center

Of course, only a hardcore athlete could perform those death-defying acts in OVO, which makes me wonder exactly what these guys eat when they're on tour.

The performers are lucky enough to have a full-service kitchen staff on tour with them, but that's just got to be pretty boring eating when you're in a city like Chicago for three months. So we checked in to find out where they dined around town. What was most surprising is that their diets aren't as restricted as we expected.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

'Lolla' Winner of the Weekend . . .

Lollapalooza crowd photo via

This feel-good story of the moment comes on the heels of a Bon Appetit writer ranting against the communal dining trend.

Some people dining communal style at Girl & The Goat over the weekend got acquainted enough with their generous tablemates that they not only got their dinner tab picked up, but were given VIP passes to Lollapalooza for Sunday night.

Amanda Makulec, one of the excited recipients, gushed on Twitter:

"I'm a believer in communal tables: tonight at g&g our fellow diners picked up our tab & gave us 'Lolla' VIP passes."

Lesson learned here: Get to know thy neighbor!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

'Time' Writer Blasts Grilled Cheese Trend


We were excited when local restaurateur Dion Antic announced last week that he was opening the grilled cheese-focused Melt Sandwich Shop this fall.

I mean, who doesn't like a well-made grilled cheese?! There's absolutely nothing to complain about, especially when this classic, simple sandwich is elevated with gourmet ingredients.

That's why I was a bit perplexed when Time's Josh Ozersky insisted in his latest column that this perfectly gooey grub should be made by your mom's hands, not by someone else's in a cold, restaurant kitchen.

How strange, huh?! Especially since chefs across the country have been reclaiming and reinventing comfort food on a higher level for years. In fact, it's been well documented that the trend hit its highest note right after Sept. 11, 2001, as more Americans gravitated toward cuisine that made them feel closer to home.

Peninsula Looks For Duffy's Replacement on Craigslist

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

Someone at Peninsula Chicago is being seriously lazy about hiring new staff for Avenues.

I stumbled across this Craigslist ad for listings for not only hostesses, servers and cooks, but a restaurant manager and chef de cuisine positions as well.

Come ON. This is the restaurant that not only scored a two-star Michelin rating, but top accolades from major media all over the world because of current chef de cuisine Curtis Duffy, who's leaving in September to work on opening his own restaurant.

See the complete ad below:

Former Bonsoiree Chef Heads To Pops

Luke Creagan is the new executive chef at Pops for Champagne. (Photo: Luke Creagan)

After just a couple of weeks of leaving Logan Square's Michelin-rated Bonsoiree, Luke Creagan is on to his next adventure.

He tells 312DD exclusively that on Wednesday he accepted an offer to be the executive chef at Pops for Champagne, which has not had an exciting food menu since Andrew Brochu left a couple of years ago.

Life Beyond 'Lolla' This Weekend

(Photo: Lollapalooza 2010)

For whatever reason, you're skipping Lollapalooza this year. You couldn't get tickets. You didn't like the acts. Or, you're simply just over it.

And while the city's pretty much consumed with the three-day music festival happening this weekend (August 5-7) in Grant Park, there is much more going on elsewhere.

August 5 also happens to be National Waffle Day, so you can start your morning with something light and fluffy.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

'Andersonville Dinner Crawl' Returns!


The Taste of Andersonville Dinner Crawl returns, offering foodies a chance to chow down at a number of area restaurants at one time.

You get to choose from three routes: SALT, PEPPER or THE WHOLE ENCHILADA when the event takes place 6-9pm August 17 during the weekly Andersonville Farmer's Market.

Today Is National Ice Cream Sandwich Day!


Not only is this my most favorite day of the year, but it just got even better.

NPR recently discovered the most ingenious way to celebrate National Ice Cream Sandwich Day during a trip to Lincoln Park's Dirty Betty's. They made them with house-made doughnuts!

While it might not be the most practical way to eat the traditional treat, it's definitely an alternative to the usual. And speaking of which, we found some other spots around town serving up their own twists to the classic summer frozen sweet:

Monday, August 1, 2011

'Hamburger Hop' Back For 'Chicago Gourmet'

NoMI's award-winning "800 Burger" from the first-ever "Hamburger Hop" competition. (Photo: Joseph Storch)

Just got word that tickets for the second-annual Hamburger Hop went on sale Monday.

Last year it was the highlight of Chicago Gourmet, the two-day festival taking place Sept. 24-25 in Millennium Park. Hamburger Hop kicks off the foodie extravaganza on Sept. 23, offering guests signature burgers from 15 of Chicago's top chefs.

Where Bartenders Go For Late-Night Bites

Bartenders Josh Davis (left) of the South Loop Club and Henri's Clint Rogers.

You already know you're dining in the right spot if you spot a chef or two sitting at the next table, but when it comes to late-night noshing, we look to the bartenders for what's going down.

I recently caught up with some of the city's top 'tenders on to find out where they like to wind down. And it's no surprise that they prefer to stick closer to home.

Here's what I found out . . .