Sunday, October 30, 2011

Schwa Staff Dons Costumes at Next Dinner

Michael Carlson and Next Chef de Cuisine Dave Beran. (Photo: Grant Achatz)

For some reason, I just cannot picture Schwa's super chef/owner Michael Carlson out shopping for a Halloween costume like the rest of us.

But as you can see in photo above, he did, and he went all out during his staff's dinner Saturday at Next. And, according to Next owner/chef Grant Achatz, they didn't come empty handed, and graciously provided the staff meal.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

The South Rises Again—On Cocktail Menus

Virginia's award-winning Barboursville Vineyards' Octagon, 2006, is on the menu at Table Fifty-Two. (Photo: 312 Dining Diva)

I swear I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that a number of wines from the South can easily hold a candle to the more celebrated vino found in France, Italy or Spain.

At Table Fifty-Two, they're building a South-focused wine program that's certain not to be found outside of the South. Check out what I found in my monthly spirits column on, where I also cover the Southern-oriented cocktail programs at Big Jones, Hearty and The Southern.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Charles Joly Wins Another Major Contest!


Sepia head mixologist Josh Pearson called it the "toughest contest lineup in a long time."

That's the Auchentoshan Lowland Single Malt Scotch Whisky "Switch" Contest in which one bartender from the United States wins the opportunity to work for two weeks at a well-known London bar, and in turn, a mixologist from London wins the chance to work for two weeks at a trendy New York bar.

The Drawing Room's Charles Joly beat out 20 top bartenders at the finals Wednesday in Las Vegas to win the coveted prize. Check out his entry video, as he makes lemonade from scratch and an Old Fashioned cocktail with Auchentoshan Three Wood.

'Baconfest,' Negroni Carafes & More

Chalkboard's Gilbert Langlois kicks off Baconfest Chicago's fall/winter satellite dinners with a special event in November. (Photo: Chalkboard)

The kickoff of Baconfest Chicago's fall/winter satellite dinners, Negroni carafes at MörSo and Storefront Company's Quinoa Fries are just a few things you'll be drooling over in the coming weeks:

He had me at Chocolate Bacon Lollipops. Oh, and Bacon Hush Puppies with Salted Caramel, too.

Chalkboard's Gilbert Langlois gets the honor of launching Baconfest Chicago's fall/winter satellite dinners with a special event at 6:30pm Nov. 8. The menu sounds supremely divine with all this swine, and also includes Very Simple Bacon and Eggs (quail eggs with roasted bacon), braised pork belly with savory pumpkin bread pudding and bacon peanut butter custard with bacon fat frosting for dessert. It's $55 per person and includes one complimentary cocktail.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Doughnut Vault Debuts at Dose Market

Doughnut Vault's chocolate glazed doughnuts. (Photo: Doughnut Vault)

So. It wasn't enough that Doughnut Vault already has lines down the street every damn day at the corner of Franklin and Kinzie, but now you're guaranteed to see them at the next Dose Market, happening Nov. 6.

The upscale food- and fashion-focused market happens once a month at River East Art Center (435 E. Illinois St.), featuring local high-profile chefs, mixologists and artisans, so the city's best gourmet doughnuts will be right at home. For the event, they'll debut six new flavors that should complement the warm Seedling cider, La Colombe coffee and Rare Tea Cellar teas that will also be on sale.

Here's what else to expect that day:

Wow Bao Truck Is On The Move!

First photos of the Wow Bao Truck. (Photos: 312 Dining Diva)

It's a few weeks behind schedule, but better late than never, eh?!

Wow Bao's—and Lettuce Entertain You's—first food truck hit the streets previewing for select media outlets Tuesday, and 312DD's crib was one of the first spots on the trail.

The mobile vehicle officially launches to the public Wednesday, offering the signature pillowy, savory bites known as "baos" in flavors like teriyaki chicken, spicy Mongolian beef, spicy Kung Pao chicken and BBQ pork.

Foie Gras Maki & More . . .

Foie Gras with nashi pear and eel sauce "gunkans" are on Sushi Samba rio's current menu. (Photo: Sushi Samba rio)

It's like foie gras is new again.

I've stumbled across a few restaurants gleefully using the fatty duck or goose liver delicacy—which was banned in Chicago 2006 through May 2008—in dishes we eat on the regular.

Earlier this year, Serious Eats sought out Chicago's most superior spuds and indulged in the Foie Gras Fries at Big and Little's. Lincoln Park brunch/lunch newcomer 2 Sparrows has a Foie Gras Pop Tart on its menu. It tastes just like the one you remember as a child, but the flavors are all grown up with the foie gras complemented by cherry compote.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Winner of Green City Market's Contest!

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Maple-Marshmallow Cream Filling photo via Bon Appetit.

Christina Gace's inspiration for her Pumpkin & Apple Whoopie Pies came from the October 2009 issue of Bon Appetit that featured a recipe for Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Maple-Marshmallow Cream Filling.

Her idea won her two tickets to Green City Market's first-ever Masquerade del Mercado, taking place 4-8pm Oct. 30 at Carnivale.

Alas, I have no more free tickets to give away, but they're still available right here. Prices are $65-$90, and through Wednesday each ticket purchase gets a bonus of five live drawing vouchers (which will be held at will call at the event).

Here are the prizes for the live drawing:

Pucker Up For 'Give Me Some Sugar'


I know what you're thinking—and likely with a groan—that we don't need any more pastry spots around town, but this one's a bit different. And I think you'll love it.

Give Me Some Sugar, a unique new sweets shop from chef Alekka Sweeney, opens in Roscoe Village on Nov. 5. She's been in business since 2006, mostly working the in-house party circuit, but this is her first storefront. She previously staged with Gale Gand at Tru, Vosges Haut Chocolates and the pastry teams at the Hotel Inter-Continental.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

And The Doughnut Craze Continues . . .

(Photo: The Doughnut Vault)

Letizia's Fiore Vino Bar & Ristorante owner Fabio Sorano has this to say about the doughnuts at his just-opened spot in Logan Square:

"They are homemade, all natural and made from scratch here. After our 32nd reformulation since opening, we believe we have that dough where we want it. Making doughnuts without hydrogenated shortenings and other stabilizers was a lot more challenging than we has thought.

"The four main kinds are glazed, chocolate glazed, raspberry glazed and a plain Italian doughnut rolled in coarse sugar (my favorite). They are big, they are square and we usually make them at 7ish (am) and then again at 10ish (am)—until the dough runs out."

Get 'em while they're hot!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Cocktail Lounge From Violet Hour Alum

Barrelhouse Flat interior shot. (Photo: Thrillist)

Stephen Cole made a name for himself at The Violet Hour, but now it's time for him to do his own thing.

So he's stepping out with a new project called Barrelhouse Flat, which is opening in Lincoln Park next Monday.

Our friends at Thrillist got an exclusive sneak preview and here's what they had to say about it:

Monday, October 17, 2011

Zombie Strippers & Food Trucks


I stayed up way too late one night watching some ridiculous movie called Zombie Strippers. Laughed the entire way through.

But never did I think someone would bring it to life, but then again it is Halloween season.

Well, the infamous Admiral Theatre (3940 W. Lawrence Ave.) plans to feature their own "undead" exotic dancers, but instead of eating brains and guts, they just might be eating some of the best tamales and naan-wiches in town.

That's because the club is jumping on the food-truck bandwagon by teaming up with Gaztro-wagon and Tamale Spaceship for a week-long event.

Your Tix To Hottest Halloween Bash in Town

Photo via

Now's the time to start planning your Halloween costume because it's only a couple of weeks away. And if you don't already have parties to hit up that weekend, man do I have the event for you. . .

So I've got a pair of complimentary tickets for the Green City Market Junior Board's first-ever Masquerade del Mercado, taking place 4-8pm Oct. 30 at Carnivale.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Vivo Fetes 20th Anniversary By Giving Back

Vivo's gorgeous dining room has not changed in 20 years. (Photo: Vivo)

It's hard to believe that West Loop pioneer Vivo celebrates its twentieth birthday on Nov. 1.

To mark the special occasion, the still very trendy Italian restaurant is offering an incredible three-course deal for $20 from Nov. 1-15. But what's even better is that a percentage of proceeds from the celebration menu will be donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in honor of owner Dan Krasny's mother, who was a Holocaust survivor.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rick Gresh Goes Haute Casual

Chef Rick Gresh's "The Hangover Dog" (Photo: America's Dog) and Gresh. (right photo: David Burke's Primehouse)

David Burke's Primehouse's Executive Chef Rick Gresh may be a fine-dining culinary star, but he always seems to get more pleasure when he's putting his spin on comfort-food dishes.

In his latest collaboration with America's Dog, he's created a signature dog for the monthly program featuring high-profile local chefs.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Celeb Chefs & Charity Go Hand In Hand

GT Fish & Oyster is one of many top restaurants set to serve on the charity circuit this fall. (Photo: GT Fish & Oyster)

Just about every week, there's some type of chef-focused charity party going on, and while this week's no different, it's the biggest one of all.

Friday's the day for the annual Meals on Wheels' Celebrity Chef Ball—the city's longest event of its kind.

Chefs Stephanie Izard (Girl & The Goat), Chris Pandel (The Bristol) and Paul Virant (Perennial Virant) are the esteemed hosts, and 80 additional chefs are set to serve signature bites at the walk-around tasting (8pm-12:30am; $125 per person).

But one name jumped out at me because this chef is also participating in a couple of additional charitable events you should know about.

Fall Into These New Dining Spots

The colorful Patron's Hacienda is ideal for the couple that’s been together for awhile and looking to spice up their relationship. (Photo: Patron's Hacienda)

OK, people.

We've been spoiled for the past week with some amazing weather, and alas, that's about to come to an end.

But have no fear. It's about to get good. . .really good as crisp fall temperatures descend upon us.

From BLT American Brasserie to Patron's Hacienda to The Pump Room, a number of fall restaurant openings have you and your significant other in mind as you look for places where you can snuggle up.

Check them all out in the The GRUB GUIDE, in

Monday, October 10, 2011

Morning TV Anchor Sushi Battle!

Melissa Forman (left) and Jeanne Sparrow of WCIU-TV's "You & Me This Morning" with actors Shawn and Marlon Wayans. (Photo: WCIU-TV)

My girls Jeanne Sparrow and Melissa Forman—anchors of WCIU-TV's You & Me This Morning—are always on a roll, but this time they're doing it for a great cause.

They're taking part in RA Sushi's first-ever Wake Up Little Sushi contest, where they're charged with creating a signature roll to raise money for their favorite charity.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sprout Team Looking For Second Location

The Sprout kitchen team includes Executive Chef Dale Levitski (second from right) and sous chef Sara Nguyen. (Photo: Sprout)

Got a couple of scoops Wednesday from chefs working the Stephanie Izard (Girl & The Goat) book launch party for Girl In The Kitchen (Chronicle Books).

Sprout Executive Chef Dale Levitski revealed to 312DD that he's actively looking for a second location for his very successful Lincoln Park restaurant. From what I could understand, the team's thinking about looking in the West Loop, but I tried to convince him to consider looking in the West Town area as well.

Also, Socca Executive Chef Roger Herring had his biggest Monday night ever when he featured $5 gourmet burgers in 2010.

He's decided to up the ante by basically giving away Allen Bros. steaks. On Oct. 25, the Lakeview resto is selling $5 8 oz. prime sirloin steaks. Sides and cocktails will be at regular prices. What an effing deal because those steaks are usually $28!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Landan Twins' Wild, $130K+ Night Out!

Brothers Jon (left) and Andrew Landan with actress Heather Graham (right). (Photos: Facebook)

While you were likely having a chill Tuesday night, two local scenesters were whooping it up with celebrities at River North's late-night dance club Board Room.

Jon and Andrew Landan somehow got into the good graces of famed Hollywood actors Heather Graham and Zac Efron and racked up one of the most expensive bar tabs we've seen in awhile.

Don't believe me?! Here's the evidence below of the $135,060 splurge, including a $100,000 bottle of Armand Nabuchadnezzar (a.k.a. Ace of Spades) champagne:

Second-Annual 'Who Runs This Town' Poll

Billy Dec (left photo via and brothers Jerrod (left) and R.J. Melman (photo via

There are so many chef-oriented polls being thrown around that in 2010 I decided to invent the first-ever Who Runs This Town poll to find out which restaurateur has the most juice.

It was just a fun little experiment pitting Billy Dec (Rockit Bar & Grill/Sunda/Underground) and Graham Elliot (grahamwich/graham elliot) against one another because they're such big personalities outside of their businesses.

Well, Billy Dec won in a landslide, and since then, the competition has gotten more fierce than ever.

One Last Hurrah!

The Backyard Bar at The Whistler (Photo: The Whistler)

When we get a week of weather like we're having now, consider it a gift from the Gods (especially after the horrible weather week we experienced last week), put your summer clothes back on, and get outside!

By the weekend, temps are expected to hit 80 degrees, so why not hit up some of the newer spots you've been meaning to check out:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

One Guy Really Loves That Chicken . . .


You may remember Daniel Kibblesmith as the quirky and nerdy Chicago bachelor from Groupon featured recently on an episode of Bravo's Millionaire Matchmaker.

His latest stunt makes me wonder if he is indeed a bonified millionaire because if he is, why is he writing an open letter to Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits to sponsor his birthday party on Sunday?!

Here's what he wrote, in a nutshell:

Two Chicago Bartenders Vie For $5K Prize

Jason Cevallos of The Office at The Aviary. (Photo: Jason Cevallos)

BIG props also go out to mixologists Jason Cevallos (The Office, Folklore) and Matthew Tiddes (McCormick & Schmick's), who made it to the finals of the Angostura Bitters North American Cocktail Challenge.

The talented 'tenders are set to compete next Tuesday during a private event at Victor Hotel for a $5,000 grand prize, trip to Trinidad and the chance to rep North America in the Angostura Bitters Global Cocktail Challenge.

Cevallos is shaking up Horchata and Peach, while Tiddes is doing
Ron Bailarin and The Conquistador.

Here's what their competitors plan to whip up:

Congrats Are In Order . . .

Mexican-focused restaurateur Rick Bayless.

Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill/Topolobampo/Xoco) is the only local chef to make the cut in FOOD & WINE Best of the Best Cookbook Recipes Vol. 14 ($32.95).

His Fiesta At Rick's, which was co-written by his wife, Deann Groen Bayless, was one of 25 books selected. The collection includes never-before-published recipes from additional top chefs and authors, dozens of wine pairings from Food & Wine's experts, and stunning color photographs.

Here's the entire list of all 25 best cookbooks of the year:

The 'Rib-a-Que Smokeout' Winners!

Socca chef/owner Roger Herring won the expert judges' vote at the "Rib-a-Que Smokeout" Saturday. (Photos: Moonshine)

Hundreds of meat lovers braved the chill on Saturday for the fourth-annual Rib-a-Que Smokeout at Moonshine as amateur chefs went up against the pros for bragging rights of who makes the best BBQ.

There were 16 competitors in all, but in the end, SmallBar won the "people's choice" award, while Socca beat all contenders, according to a panel of celebrity media judges. Both winners took home a Gilded Grill and $350 in cash.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Annual Dessert Crawl, Stephanie Izard & More!


I'm glued to the television every time Top Chef Just Desserts is in marathon mode.

And the only thing keeping me from losing my mind because I cannot get my hands on any of those desserts is knowing that Andersonville's annual Dessert Crawl happens this fall.

This time, the sugary soiree has three routes (CANDY CANE, GUMDROP and LOLLIPOP), which means you spend $20 ($25 day of event) to check out a number of decadent bites. For example, Hamburger Mary's is doing fried brownies and Twinkies; Taste of Heaven is serving up pumpkin crumble bars; and In Fine Spirits' whipping up mini pumpkin pies with IFS Bourbon Cream.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sam Zell Does It Again!

Zell photo via Businessweek.

Here's a question I need desperately answered:

Who do I need to bribe to get an invitation to Sam Zell's birthday blowout next year?!

The real estate mogul threw his infamous bash Saturday at a sprawling warehouse at 30th and Pulaski streets, and I have no idea who the 800 guests were, but I can tell you that James Taylor performed for an hour. Equally impressive is the chef lineup that read like a who's who on Chicago's culinary scene.